eBooks Cube
 
CHAPTER VI



The morning of the first day of the seventh month--Tishri in the
Hebrew, October in English--Ben-Hur arose from his couch in the
khan ill satisfied with the whole world.

Little time had been lost in consultation upon the arrival of
Malluch. The latter began the search at the Tower of Antonia,
and began it boldly, by a direct inquiry of the tribune commanding.
He gave the officer a history of the Hurs, and all the particulars
of the accident to Gratus, describing the affair as wholly without
criminality. The object of the quest now, he said, was if any of
the unhappy family were discovered alive to carry a petition to
the feet of Caesar, praying restitution of the estate and return to
their civil rights. Such a petition, he had no doubt, would result
in an investigation by the imperial order, a proceeding of which
the friends of the family had no fear.

In reply the tribune stated circumstantially the discovery of the
women in the Tower, and permitted a reading of the memorandum he
had taken of their account of themselves; when leave to copy it
was prayed, he even permitted that.

Malluch thereupon hurried to Ben-Hur.

It were useless to attempt description of the effect the terrible
story had upon the young man. The pain was not relieved by tears
or passionate outcries; it was too deep for any expression. He sat
still a long time, with pallid face and laboring heart. Now and then,
as if to show the thoughts which were most poignant, he muttered,

"Lepers, lepers! They--my mother and Tirzah--they lepers! How long,
how long, O Lord!"

One moment he was torn by a virtuous rage of sorrow, next by a
longing for vengeance which, it must be admitted, was scarcely
less virtuous.

At length he arose.

"I must look for them. They may be dying."

"Where will you look?" asked Malluch.

"There is but one place for them to go."

Malluch interposed, and finally prevailed so far as to have the
management of the further attempt intrusted to him. Together they
went to the gate over on the side opposite the Hill of Evil Counsel,
immemorially the lepers' begging-ground. There they stayed all
day, giving alms, asking for the two women, and offering rich
rewards for their discovery. So they did in repetition day after
day through the remainder of the fifth month, and all the sixth.
There was diligent scouring of the dread city on the hill by lepers
to whom the rewards offered were mighty incentives, for they were
only dead in law. Over and over again the gaping tomb down by the
well was invaded, and its tenants subjected to inquiry; but they
kept their secret fast. The result was failure. And now, the morning
of the first day of the seventh month, the extent of the additional
information gained was that not long before two leprous women had been
stoned from the Fish Gate by the authorities. A little pressing of
the clew, together with some shrewd comparison of dates, led to the
sad assurance that the sufferers were the Hurs, and left the old
questions darker than ever. Where were they? And what had become
of them?

"It was not enough that my people should be made lepers," said the
son, over and over again, with what intensity of bitterness the
reader may imagine; "that was not enough. Oh no! They must be stoned
from their native city! My mother is dead! she has wandered to the
wilderness! she is dead! Tirzah is dead! I alone am left. And for
what? How long, O God, thou Lord God of my fathers, how long shall
this Rome endure?"

Angry, hopeless, vengeful, he entered the court of the khan, and
found it crowded with people come in during the night. While he
ate his breakfast, he listened to some of them. To one party he
was specially attracted. They were mostly young, stout, active,
hardy men, in manner and speech provincial. In their look, the certain
indefinable air, the pose of the head, glance of the eye, there was
a spirit which did not, as a rule, belong to the outward seeming
of the lower orders of Jerusalem; the spirit thought by some to
be a peculiarity of life in mountainous districts, but which may
be more surely traced to a life of healthful freedom. In a short
time he ascertained they were Galileans, in the city for various
purposes, but chiefly to take part in the Feast of Trumpets, set for
that day. They became to him at once objects of interest, as hailing
from the region in which he hoped to find readiest support in the
work he was shortly to set about.

While observing them, his mind running ahead in thought of
achievements possible to a legion of such spirits disciplined
after the severe Roman style, a man came into the court, his face
much flushed, his eyes bright with excitement.

"Why are you here?" he said to the Galileans. "The rabbis and
elders are going from the Temple to see Pilate. Come, make haste,
and let us go with them."

They surrounded him in a moment.

"To see Pilate! For what?"

"They have discovered a conspiracy. Pilate's new aqueduct is to
be paid for with money of the Temple."

"What, with the sacred treasure?"

They repeated the question to each other with flashing eyes.

"It is Corban--money of God. Let him touch a shekel of it if he
dare!"

"Come," cried the messenger. "The procession is by this time across
the bridge. The whole city is pouring after. We may be needed.
Make haste!"

As if the thought and the act were one, there was quick putting
away of useless garments, and the party stood forth bareheaded,
and in the short sleeveless under-tunics they were used to wearing
as reapers in the field and boatmen on the lake--the garb in which
they climbed the hills following the herds, and plucked the ripened
vintage, careless of the sun. Lingering only to tighten their girdles,
they said, "We are ready."

Then Ben-Hur spoke to them.

"Men of Galilee," he said, "I am a son of Judah. Will you take me
in your company?"

"We may have to fight," they replied.

"Oh, then, I will not be first to run away!"

They took the retort in good humor, and the messenger said,
"You seem stout enough. Come along."

Ben-Hur put off his outer garments.

"You think there may be fighting?" he asked, quietly, as he
tightened his girdle.

"Yes."

"With whom?"

"The guard."

"Legionaries?"

"Whom else can a Roman trust?"

"What have you to fight with?"

They looked at him silently.

"Well," he continued, "we will have to do the best we can; but had
we not better choose a leader? The legionaries always have one,
and so are able to act with one mind."

The Galileans stared more curiously, as if the idea were new to
them.

"Let us at least agree to stay together," he said. "Now I am ready,
if you are."

"Yes, let us go."

The khan, it should not be forgotten, was in Bezetha, the new
town; and to get to the Praetorium, as the Romans resonantly
styled the palace of Herod on Mount Zion, the party had to cross
the lowlands north and west of the Temple. By streets--if they may
be so called--trending north and south, with intersections hardly
up to the dignity of alleys, they passed rapidly round the Akra
district to the Tower of Mariamne, from which the way was short
to the grand gate of the walled heights. In going, they overtook,
or were overtaken by, people like themselves stirred to wrath by
news of the proposed desecration. When, at length, they reached
the gate of the Praetorium, the procession of elders and rabbis
had passed in with a great following, leaving a greater crowd
clamoring outside.

A centurion kept the entrance with a guard drawn up full armed
under the beautiful marble battlements. The sun struck the soldiers
fervidly on helm and shield; but they kept their ranks indifferent
alike to its dazzle and to the mouthings of the rabble. Through the
open bronze gates a current of citizens poured in, while a much
lesser one poured out.

"What is going on?" one of the Galileans asked an outcomer.

"Nothing," was the reply. "The rabbis are before the door of the
palace asking to see Pilate. He has refused to come out. They have
sent one to tell him they will not go away till he has heard them.
They are waiting."

"Let us go in," said Ben-Hur, in his quiet way, seeing what his
companions probably did not, that there was not only a disagreement
between the suitors and the governor, but an issue joined, and a
serious question as to who should have his will.

Inside the gate there was a row of trees in leaf, with seats under
them. The people, whether going or coming, carefully avoided the
shade cast gratefully upon the white, clean-swept pavement; for,
strange as it may seem, a rabbinical ordinance, alleged to have been
derived from the law, permitted no green thing to be grown within
the walls of Jerusalem. Even the wise king, it was said, wanting a
garden for his Egyptian bride, was constrained to found it down in
the meeting-place of the valleys above En-rogel.

Through the tree-tops shone the outer fronts of the palace.
Turning to the right, the party proceeded a short distance to a
spacious square, on the west side of which stood the residence of
the governor. An excited multitude filled the square. Every face
was directed towards a portico built over a broad doorway which
was closed. Under the portico there was another array of legionaries.

The throng was so close the friends could not well have advanced
if such had been their desire; they remained therefore in the rear,
observers of what was going on. About the portico they could see the
high turbans of the rabbis, whose impatience communicated at times
to the mass behind them; a cry was frequent to the effect "Pilate,
if thou be a governor, come forth, come forth!"

Once a man coming out pushed through the crowd, his face red with
anger.

"Israel is of no account here," he said, in a loud voice. "On this
holy ground we are no better than dogs of Rome."

"Will he not come out, think you?"

"Come? Has he not thrice refused?"

"What will the rabbis do?"

"As at Caesarea--camp here till he gives them ear."

"He will not dare touch the treasure, will he?" asked one of the
Galileans.

"Who can say? Did not a Roman profane the Holy of Holies? Is there
anything sacred from Romans?"

An hour passed, and though Pilate deigned them no answer, the rabbis
and crowd remained. Noon came, bringing a shower from the west,
but no change in the situation, except that the multitude was
larger and much noisier, and the feeling more decidedly angry.
The shouting was almost continuous, Come forth, come forth! The cry
was sometimes with disrespectful variations. Meanwhile Ben-Hur held
his Galilean friends together. He judged the pride of the Roman
would eventually get the better of his discretion, and that the
end could not be far off. Pilate was but waiting for the people
to furnish him an excuse for resort to violence.

And at last the end came. In the midst of the assemblage there
was heard the sound of blows, succeeded instantly by yells of
pain and rage, and a most furious commotion. The venerable men
in front of the portico faced about aghast. The common people in
the rear at first pushed forward; in the centre, the effort was
to get out; and for a short time the pressure of opposing forces
was terrible. A thousand voices made inquiry, raised all at once;
as no one had time to answer, the surprise speedily became a panic.

Ben-Hur kept his senses.

"You cannot see?" he said to one of the Galileans.

"No."

"I will raise you up."

He caught the man about the middle, and lifted him bodily.

"What is it?"

"I see now," said the man. "There are some armed with clubs, and they
are beating the people. They are dressed like Jews."

"Who are they?"

"Romans, as the Lord liveth! Romans in disguise. Their clubs fly
like flails! There, I saw a rabbi struck down--an old man! They
spare nobody!"

Ben-Hur let the man down.

"Men of Galilee," he said, "it is a trick of Pilate's. Now, will you
do what I say, we will get even with the club-men."

The Galilean spirit arose.

"Yes, yes!" they answered.

"Let us go back to the trees by the gate, and we may find the
planting of Herod, though unlawful, has some good in it after
all. Come!"

They ran back all of them fast as they could; and, by throwing
their united weight upon the limbs, tore them from the trunks.
In a brief time they, too, were armed. Returning, at the corner of
the square they met the crowd rushing madly for the gate. Behind,
the clamor continued--a medley of shrieks, groans, and execrations.

"To the wall!" Ben-Hur shouted. "To the wall!--and let the herd
go by!"

So, clinging to the masonry at their right hand, they escaped the
might of the rush, and little by little made headway until, at last,
the square was reached.

"Keep together now, and follow me!"

By this time Ben-Hur's leadership was perfect; and as he pushed
into the seething mob his party closed after him in a body.
And when the Romans, clubbing the people and making merry as
they struck them down, came hand to hand with the Galileans,
lithe of limb, eager for the fray, and equally armed, they were
in turn surprised. Then the shouting was close and fierce; the
crash of sticks rapid and deadly; the advance furious as hate
could make it. No one performed his part as well as Ben-Hur,
whose training served him admirably; for, not merely he knew to
strike and guard; his long arm, perfect action, and incomparable
strength helped him, also, to success in every encounter. He was
at the same time fighting-man and leader. The club he wielded was of
goodly length and weighty, so he had need to strike a man but once.
He seemed, moreover, to have eyes for each combat of his friends,
and the faculty of being at the right moment exactly where he was
most needed. In his fighting cry there were inspiration for his
party and alarm for his enemies. Thus surprised and equally matched,
the Romans at first retired, but finally turned their backs and fled
to the portico. The impetuous Galileans would have pursued them to
the steps, but Ben-Hur wisely restrained them.

"Stay, my men!" he said. "The centurion yonder is coming with
the guard. They have swords and shields; we cannot fight them.
We have done well; let us get back and out of the gate while
we may."

They obeyed him, though slowly; for they had frequently to step over
their countrymen lying where they had been felled; some writhing and
groaning, some praying help, others mute as the dead. But the fallen
were not all Jews. In that there was consolation.

The centurion shouted to them as they went off; Ben-Hur laughed
at him, and replied in his own tongue, "If we are dogs of Israel,
you are jackals of Rome. Remain here, and we will come again."

The Galileans cheered, and laughing went on.

Outside the gate there was a multitude the like of which Ben-Hur
had never seen, not even in the circus at Antioch. The house-tops,
the streets, the slope of the hill, appeared densely covered with
people wailing and praying. The air was filled with their cries
and imprecations.

The party were permitted to pass without challenge by the outer
guard. But hardly were they out before the centurion in charge
at the portico appeared, and in the gateway called to Ben-Hur,

"Ho, insolent! Art thou a Roman or a Jew?"

Ben-Hur answered, "I am a son of Judah, born here. What wouldst
thou with me?"

"Stay and fight."

"Singly?"

"As thou wilt!"

Ben-Hur laughed derisively.

"O brave Roman! Worthy son of the bastard Roman Jove! I have no
arms."

"Thou shalt have mine," the centurion answered. "I will borrow of
the guard here."

The people in hearing of the colloquy became silent; and from them
the hush spread afar. But lately Ben-Hur had beaten a Roman under
the eyes of Antioch and the Farther East; now, could he beat another
one under the eyes of Jerusalem, the honor might be vastly profitable
to the cause of the New King. He did not hesitate. Going frankly to
the centurion, he said, "I am willing. Lend me thy sword and shield."

"And the helm and breastplate?" asked the Roman.

"Keep them. They might not fit me."

The arms were as frankly delivered, and directly the centurion
was ready. All this time the soldiers in rank close by the gate
never moved; they simply listened. As to the multitude, only when
the combatants advanced to begin the fight the question sped from
mouth to mouth, "Who is he?" And no one knew.

Now the Roman supremacy in arms lay in three things--submission to
discipline, the legionary formation of battle, and a peculiar use
of the short sword. In combat, they never struck or cut; from first
to last they thrust--they advanced thrusting, they retired thrusting;
and generally their aim was at the foeman's face. All this was well known
to Ben-Hur. As they were about to engage he said,

"I told thee I was a son of Judah; but I did not tell that I am
lanista-taught. Defend thyself!"

At the last word Ben-Hur closed with his antagonist. A moment,
standing foot to foot, they glared at each other over the rims
of their embossed shields; then the Roman pushed forward and
feinted an under-thrust. The Jew laughed at him. A thrust at the
face followed. The Jew stepped lightly to the left; quick as the
thrust was, the step was quicker. Under the lifted arm of the foe
he slid his shield, advancing it until the sword and sword-arm were
both caught on its upper surface; another step, this time forward
and left, and the man's whole right side was offered to the point.
The centurion fell heavily on his breast, clanging the pavement,
and Ben-Hur had won. With his foot upon his enemy's back, he raised
his shield overhead after a gladiatorial custom, and saluted the
imperturbable soldiers by the gate.

When the people realized the victory they behaved like mad.
On the houses far as the Xystus, fast as the word could fly,
they waved their shawls and handkerchiefs and shouted; and if he
had consented, the Galileans would have carried Ben-Hur off upon
their shoulders.

To a petty officer who then advanced from the gate he said, "Thy
comrade died like a soldier. I leave him undespoiled. Only his
sword and shield are mine."

With that, he walked away. Off a little he spoke to the Galileans.

"Brethren, you have behaved well. Let us now separate, lest we be
pursued. Meet me to-night at the khan in Bethany. I have something
to propose to you of great interest to Israel."

"Who are you?" they asked him.

"A son of Judah," he answered, simply.

A throng eager to see him surged around the party.

"Will you come to Bethany?" he asked.

"Yes, we will come."

"Then bring with you this sword and shield that I may know you."

Pushing brusquely through the increasing crowd, he speedily
disappeared.

At the instance of Pilate, the people went up from the city, and
carried off their dead and wounded, and there was much mourning
for them; but the grief was greatly lightened by the victory of
the unknown champion, who was everywhere sought, and by every
one extolled. The fainting spirit of the nation was revived
by the brave deed; insomuch that in the streets and up in the
Temple even, amidst the solemnities of the feast, old tales of
the Maccabees were told again, and thousands shook their heads
whispering wisely,

"A little longer, only a little longer, brethren, and Israel will
come to her own. Let there be faith in the Lord, and patience."

In such manner Ben-Hur obtained hold on Galilee, and paved the
way to greater services in the cause of the King Who Was Coming.

And with what result we shall see.



CHAPTER VI



The morning of the first day of the seventh month--Tishri in the
Hebrew, October in English--Ben-Hur arose from his couch in the
khan ill satisfied with the whole world.

Little time had been lost in consultation upon the arrival of
Malluch. The latter began the search at the Tower of Antonia,
and began it boldly, by a direct inquiry of the tribune commanding.
He gave the officer a history of the Hurs, and all the particulars
of the accident to Gratus, describing the affair as wholly without
criminality. The object of the quest now, he said, was if any of
the unhappy family were discovered alive to carry a petition to
the feet of Caesar, praying restitution of the estate and return to
their civil rights. Such a petition, he had no doubt, would result
in an investigation by the imperial order, a proceeding of which
the friends of the family had no fear.

In reply the tribune stated circumstantially the discovery of the
women in the Tower, and permitted a reading of the memorandum he
had taken of their account of themselves; when leave to copy it
was prayed, he even permitted that.

Malluch thereupon hurried to Ben-Hur.

It were useless to attempt description of the effect the terrible
story had upon the young man. The pain was not relieved by tears
or passionate outcries; it was too deep for any expression. He sat
still a long time, with pallid face and laboring heart. Now and then,
as if to show the thoughts which were most poignant, he muttered,

"Lepers, lepers! They--my mother and Tirzah--they lepers! How long,
how long, O Lord!"

One moment he was torn by a virtuous rage of sorrow, next by a
longing for vengeance which, it must be admitted, was scarcely
less virtuous.

At length he arose.

"I must look for them. They may be dying."

"Where will you look?" asked Malluch.

"There is but one place for them to go."

Malluch interposed, and finally prevailed so far as to have the
management of the further attempt intrusted to him. Together they
went to the gate over on the side opposite the Hill of Evil Counsel,
immemorially the lepers' begging-ground. There they stayed all
day, giving alms, asking for the two women, and offering rich
rewards for their discovery. So they did in repetition day after
day through the remainder of the fifth month, and all the sixth.
There was diligent scouring of the dread city on the hill by lepers
to whom the rewards offered were mighty incentives, for they were
only dead in law. Over and over again the gaping tomb down by the
well was invaded, and its tenants subjected to inquiry; but they
kept their secret fast. The result was failure. And now, the morning
of the first day of the seventh month, the extent of the additional
information gained was that not long before two leprous women had been
stoned from the Fish Gate by the authorities. A little pressing of
the clew, together with some shrewd comparison of dates, led to the
sad assurance that the sufferers were the Hurs, and left the old
questions darker than ever. Where were they? And what had become
of them?

"It was not enough that my people should be made lepers," said the
son, over and over again, with what intensity of bitterness the
reader may imagine; "that was not enough. Oh no! They must be stoned
from their native city! My mother is dead! she has wandered to the
wilderness! she is dead! Tirzah is dead! I alone am left. And for
what? How long, O God, thou Lord God of my fathers, how long shall
this Rome endure?"

Angry, hopeless, vengeful, he entered the court of the khan, and
found it crowded with people come in during the night. While he
ate his breakfast, he listened to some of them. To one party he
was specially attracted. They were mostly young, stout, active,
hardy men, in manner and speech provincial. In their look, the certain
indefinable air, the pose of the head, glance of the eye, there was
a spirit which did not, as a rule, belong to the outward seeming
of the lower orders of Jerusalem; the spirit thought by some to
be a peculiarity of life in mountainous districts, but which may
be more surely traced to a life of healthful freedom. In a short
time he ascertained they were Galileans, in the city for various
purposes, but chiefly to take part in the Feast of Trumpets, set for
that day. They became to him at once objects of interest, as hailing
from the region in which he hoped to find readiest support in the
work he was shortly to set about.

While observing them, his mind running ahead in thought of
achievements possible to a legion of such spirits disciplined
after the severe Roman style, a man came into the court, his face
much flushed, his eyes bright with excitement.

"Why are you here?" he said to the Galileans. "The rabbis and
elders are going from the Temple to see Pilate. Come, make haste,
and let us go with them."

They surrounded him in a moment.

"To see Pilate! For what?"

"They have discovered a conspiracy. Pilate's new aqueduct is to
be paid for with money of the Temple."

"What, with the sacred treasure?"

They repeated the question to each other with flashing eyes.

"It is Corban--money of God. Let him touch a shekel of it if he
dare!"

"Come," cried the messenger. "The procession is by this time across
the bridge. The whole city is pouring after. We may be needed.
Make haste!"

As if the thought and the act were one, there was quick putting
away of useless garments, and the party stood forth bareheaded,
and in the short sleeveless under-tunics they were used to wearing
as reapers in the field and boatmen on the lake--the garb in which
they climbed the hills following the herds, and plucked the ripened
vintage, careless of the sun. Lingering only to tighten their girdles,
they said, "We are ready."

Then Ben-Hur spoke to them.

"Men of Galilee," he said, "I am a son of Judah. Will you take me
in your company?"

"We may have to fight," they replied.

"Oh, then, I will not be first to run away!"

They took the retort in good humor, and the messenger said,
"You seem stout enough. Come along."

Ben-Hur put off his outer garments.

"You think there may be fighting?" he asked, quietly, as he
tightened his girdle.

"Yes."

"With whom?"

"The guard."

"Legionaries?"

"Whom else can a Roman trust?"

"What have you to fight with?"

They looked at him silently.

"Well," he continued, "we will have to do the best we can; but had
we not better choose a leader? The legionaries always have one,
and so are able to act with one mind."

The Galileans stared more curiously, as if the idea were new to
them.

"Let us at least agree to stay together," he said. "Now I am ready,
if you are."

"Yes, let us go."

The khan, it should not be forgotten, was in Bezetha, the new
town; and to get to the Praetorium, as the Romans resonantly
styled the palace of Herod on Mount Zion, the party had to cross
the lowlands north and west of the Temple. By streets--if they may
be so called--trending north and south, with intersections hardly
up to the dignity of alleys, they passed rapidly round the Akra
district to the Tower of Mariamne, from which the way was short
to the grand gate of the walled heights. In going, they overtook,
or were overtaken by, people like themselves stirred to wrath by
news of the proposed desecration. When, at length, they reached
the gate of the Praetorium, the procession of elders and rabbis
had passed in with a great following, leaving a greater crowd
clamoring outside.

A centurion kept the entrance with a guard drawn up full armed
under the beautiful marble battlements. The sun struck the soldiers
fervidly on helm and shield; but they kept their ranks indifferent
alike to its dazzle and to the mouthings of the rabble. Through the
open bronze gates a current of citizens poured in, while a much
lesser one poured out.

"What is going on?" one of the Galileans asked an outcomer.

"Nothing," was the reply. "The rabbis are before the door of the
palace asking to see Pilate. He has refused to come out. They have
sent one to tell him they will not go away till he has heard them.
They are waiting."

"Let us go in," said Ben-Hur, in his quiet way, seeing what his
companions probably did not, that there was not only a disagreement
between the suitors and the governor, but an issue joined, and a
serious question as to who should have his will.

Inside the gate there was a row of trees in leaf, with seats under
them. The people, whether going or coming, carefully avoided the
shade cast gratefully upon the white, clean-swept pavement; for,
strange as it may seem, a rabbinical ordinance, alleged to have been
derived from the law, permitted no green thing to be grown within
the walls of Jerusalem. Even the wise king, it was said, wanting a
garden for his Egyptian bride, was constrained to found it down in
the meeting-place of the valleys above En-rogel.

Through the tree-tops shone the outer fronts of the palace.
Turning to the right, the party proceeded a short distance to a
spacious square, on the west side of which stood the residence of
the governor. An excited multitude filled the square. Every face
was directed towards a portico built over a broad doorway which
was closed. Under the portico there was another array of legionaries.

The throng was so close the friends could not well have advanced
if such had been their desire; they remained therefore in the rear,
observers of what was going on. About the portico they could see the
high turbans of the rabbis, whose impatience communicated at times
to the mass behind them; a cry was frequent to the effect "Pilate,
if thou be a governor, come forth, come forth!"

Once a man coming out pushed through the crowd, his face red with
anger.

"Israel is of no account here," he said, in a loud voice. "On this
holy ground we are no better than dogs of Rome."

"Will he not come out, think you?"

"Come? Has he not thrice refused?"

"What will the rabbis do?"

"As at Caesarea--camp here till he gives them ear."

"He will not dare touch the treasure, will he?" asked one of the
Galileans.

"Who can say? Did not a Roman profane the Holy of Holies? Is there
anything sacred from Romans?"

An hour passed, and though Pilate deigned them no answer, the rabbis
and crowd remained. Noon came, bringing a shower from the west,
but no change in the situation, except that the multitude was
larger and much noisier, and the feeling more decidedly angry.
The shouting was almost continuous, Come forth, come forth! The cry
was sometimes with disrespectful variations. Meanwhile Ben-Hur held
his Galilean friends together. He judged the pride of the Roman
would eventually get the better of his discretion, and that the
end could not be far off. Pilate was but waiting for the people
to furnish him an excuse for resort to violence.

And at last the end came. In the midst of the assemblage there
was heard the sound of blows, succeeded instantly by yells of
pain and rage, and a most furious commotion. The venerable men
in front of the portico faced about aghast. The common people in
the rear at first pushed forward; in the centre, the effort was
to get out; and for a short time the pressure of opposing forces
was terrible. A thousand voices made inquiry, raised all at once;
as no one had time to answer, the surprise speedily became a panic.

Ben-Hur kept his senses.

"You cannot see?" he said to one of the Galileans.

"No."

"I will raise you up."

He caught the man about the middle, and lifted him bodily.

"What is it?"

"I see now," said the man. "There are some armed with clubs, and they
are beating the people. They are dressed like Jews."

"Who are they?"

"Romans, as the Lord liveth! Romans in disguise. Their clubs fly
like flails! There, I saw a rabbi struck down--an old man! They
spare nobody!"

Ben-Hur let the man down.

"Men of Galilee," he said, "it is a trick of Pilate's. Now, will you
do what I say, we will get even with the club-men."

The Galilean spirit arose.

"Yes, yes!" they answered.

"Let us go back to the trees by the gate, and we may find the
planting of Herod, though unlawful, has some good in it after
all. Come!"

They ran back all of them fast as they could; and, by throwing
their united weight upon the limbs, tore them from the trunks.
In a brief time they, too, were armed. Returning, at the corner of
the square they met the crowd rushing madly for the gate. Behind,
the clamor continued--a medley of shrieks, groans, and execrations.

"To the wall!" Ben-Hur shouted. "To the wall!--and let the herd
go by!"

So, clinging to the masonry at their right hand, they escaped the
might of the rush, and little by little made headway until, at last,
the square was reached.

"Keep together now, and follow me!"

By this time Ben-Hur's leadership was perfect; and as he pushed
into the seething mob his party closed after him in a body.
And when the Romans, clubbing the people and making merry as
they struck them down, came hand to hand with the Galileans,
lithe of limb, eager for the fray, and equally armed, they were
in turn surprised. Then the shouting was close and fierce; the
crash of sticks rapid and deadly; the advance furious as hate
could make it. No one performed his part as well as Ben-Hur,
whose training served him admirably; for, not merely he knew to
strike and guard; his long arm, perfect action, and incomparable
strength helped him, also, to success in every encounter. He was
at the same time fighting-man and leader. The club he wielded was of
goodly length and weighty, so he had need to strike a man but once.
He seemed, moreover, to have eyes for each combat of his friends,
and the faculty of being at the right moment exactly where he was
most needed. In his fighting cry there were inspiration for his
party and alarm for his enemies. Thus surprised and equally matched,
the Romans at first retired, but finally turned their backs and fled
to the portico. The impetuous Galileans would have pursued them to
the steps, but Ben-Hur wisely restrained them.

"Stay, my men!" he said. "The centurion yonder is coming with
the guard. They have swords and shields; we cannot fight them.
We have done well; let us get back and out of the gate while
we may."

They obeyed him, though slowly; for they had frequently to step over
their countrymen lying where they had been felled; some writhing and
groaning, some praying help, others mute as the dead. But the fallen
were not all Jews. In that there was consolation.

The centurion shouted to them as they went off; Ben-Hur laughed
at him, and replied in his own tongue, "If we are dogs of Israel,
you are jackals of Rome. Remain here, and we will come again."

The Galileans cheered, and laughing went on.

Outside the gate there was a multitude the like of which Ben-Hur
had never seen, not even in the circus at Antioch. The house-tops,
the streets, the slope of the hill, appeared densely covered with
people wailing and praying. The air was filled with their cries
and imprecations.

The party were permitted to pass without challenge by the outer
guard. But hardly were they out before the centurion in charge
at the portico appeared, and in the gateway called to Ben-Hur,

"Ho, insolent! Art thou a Roman or a Jew?"

Ben-Hur answered, "I am a son of Judah, born here. What wouldst
thou with me?"

"Stay and fight."

"Singly?"

"As thou wilt!"

Ben-Hur laughed derisively.

"O brave Roman! Worthy son of the bastard Roman Jove! I have no
arms."

"Thou shalt have mine," the centurion answered. "I will borrow of
the guard here."

The people in hearing of the colloquy became silent; and from them
the hush spread afar. But lately Ben-Hur had beaten a Roman under
the eyes of Antioch and the Farther East; now, could he beat another
one under the eyes of Jerusalem, the honor might be vastly profitable
to the cause of the New King. He did not hesitate. Going frankly to
the centurion, he said, "I am willing. Lend me thy sword and shield."

"And the helm and breastplate?" asked the Roman.

"Keep them. They might not fit me."

The arms were as frankly delivered, and directly the centurion
was ready. All this time the soldiers in rank close by the gate
never moved; they simply listened. As to the multitude, only when
the combatants advanced to begin the fight the question sped from
mouth to mouth, "Who is he?" And no one knew.

Now the Roman supremacy in arms lay in three things--submission to
discipline, the legionary formation of battle, and a peculiar use
of the short sword. In combat, they never struck or cut; from first
to last they thrust--they advanced thrusting, they retired thrusting;
and generally their aim was at the foeman's face. All this was well known
to Ben-Hur. As they were about to engage he said,

"I told thee I was a son of Judah; but I did not tell that I am
lanista-taught. Defend thyself!"

At the last word Ben-Hur closed with his antagonist. A moment,
standing foot to foot, they glared at each other over the rims
of their embossed shields; then the Roman pushed forward and
feinted an under-thrust. The Jew laughed at him. A thrust at the
face followed. The Jew stepped lightly to the left; quick as the
thrust was, the step was quicker. Under the lifted arm of the foe
he slid his shield, advancing it until the sword and sword-arm were
both caught on its upper surface; another step, this time forward
and left, and the man's whole right side was offered to the point.
The centurion fell heavily on his breast, clanging the pavement,
and Ben-Hur had won. With his foot upon his enemy's back, he raised
his shield overhead after a gladiatorial custom, and saluted the
imperturbable soldiers by the gate.

When the people realized the victory they behaved like mad.
On the houses far as the Xystus, fast as the word could fly,
they waved their shawls and handkerchiefs and shouted; and if he
had consented, the Galileans would have carried Ben-Hur off upon
their shoulders.

To a petty officer who then advanced from the gate he said, "Thy
comrade died like a soldier. I leave him undespoiled. Only his
sword and shield are mine."

With that, he walked away. Off a little he spoke to the Galileans.

"Brethren, you have behaved well. Let us now separate, lest we be
pursued. Meet me to-night at the khan in Bethany. I have something
to propose to you of great interest to Israel."

"Who are you?" they asked him.

"A son of Judah," he answered, simply.

A throng eager to see him surged around the party.

"Will you come to Bethany?" he asked.

"Yes, we will come."

"Then bring with you this sword and shield that I may know you."

Pushing brusquely through the increasing crowd, he speedily
disappeared.

At the instance of Pilate, the people went up from the city, and
carried off their dead and wounded, and there was much mourning
for them; but the grief was greatly lightened by the victory of
the unknown champion, who was everywhere sought, and by every
one extolled. The fainting spirit of the nation was revived
by the brave deed; insomuch that in the streets and up in the
Temple even, amidst the solemnities of the feast, old tales of
the Maccabees were told again, and thousands shook their heads
whispering wisely,

"A little longer, only a little longer, brethren, and Israel will
come to her own. Let there be faith in the Lord, and patience."

In such manner Ben-Hur obtained hold on Galilee, and paved the
way to greater services in the cause of the King Who Was Coming.

And with what result we shall see.






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