"And, waking, I beheld her there
Sea-dreaming in the moted air,
A siren lithe and debonair,
With wristlets woven of scarlet weeds,
And oblong lucent amber beads
Of sea-kelp shining in her hair."
THOMAS BAILEY ALDRICH.
The meeting took place in the khan of Bethany as appointed.
Thence Ben-Hur went with the Galileans into their country,
where his exploits up in the old Market-place gave him fame and
influence. Before the winter was gone he raised three legions,
and organized them after the Roman pattern. He could have had
as many more, for the martial spirit of that gallant people
never slept. The proceeding, however, required careful guarding
as against both Rome and Herod Antipas. Contenting himself for
the present with the three, he strove to train and educate them
for systematic action. For that purpose he carried the officers
over into the lava-beds of Trachonitis, and taught them the use
of arms, particularly the javelin and sword, and the manoeuvering
peculiar to the legionary formation; after which he sent them home
as teachers. And soon the training became a pastime of the people.
As may be thought, the task called for patience, skill, zeal, faith,
and devotion on his part--qualities into which the power of inspiring
others in matters of difficulty is always resolvable; and never man
possessed them in greater degree or used them to better effect. How he
labored! And with utter denial of self! Yet withal he would have
failed but for the support he had from Simonides, who furnished
him arms and money, and from Ilderim, who kept watch and brought
him supplies. And still he would have failed but for the genius
of the Galileans.
Under that name were comprehended the four tribes--Asher, Zebulon,
Issachar, and Naphthali--and the districts originally set apart to
them. The Jew born in sight of the Temple despised these brethren
of the north; but the Talmud itself has said, "The Galilean loves
honor, and the Jew money."
Hating Rome fervidly as they loved their own country, in every
revolt they were first in the field and last to leave it.
One hundred and fifty thousand Galilean youths perished in
the final war with Rome. For the great festal days, they went
up to Jerusalem marching and camping like armies; yet they were
liberal in sentiment, and even tolerant to heathenism. In Herod's
beautiful cities, which were Roman in all things, in Sepphoris and
Tiberias especially, they took pride, and in the building them gave
loyal support. They had for fellow-citizens men from the outside
world everywhere, and lived in peace with them. To the glory of
the Hebrew name they contributed poets like the singer of the
Song of Songs and prophets like Hosea.
Upon such a people, so quick, so proud, so brave, so devoted,
so imaginative, a tale like that of the coming of the King
was all-powerful. That he was coming to put Rome down would have
been sufficient to enlist them in the scheme proposed by Ben-Hur;
but when, besides, they were assured he was to rule the world,
more mighty than Caesar, more magnificent than Solomon, and that
the rule was to last forever, the appeal was irresistible, and they
vowed themselves to the cause body and soul. They asked Ben-Hur his
authority for the sayings, and he quoted the prophets, and told them
of Balthasar in waiting over in Antioch; and they were satisfied,
for it was the old much-loved legend of the Messiah, familiar to
them almost as the name of the Lord; the long-cherished dream
with a time fixed for its realization. The King was not merely
coming now; he was at hand.
So with Ben-Hur the winter months rolled by, and spring came,
with gladdening showers blown over from the summering sea in the
west; and by that time so earnestly and successfully had he toiled
that he could say to himself and his followers, "Let the good King
come. He has only to tell us where he will have his throne set up.
We have the sword-hands to keep it for him."
And in all his dealings with the many men they knew him only as
a son of Judah, and by that name.
* * * * * *
One evening, over in Trachonitis, Ben-Hur was sitting with some
of his Galileans at the mouth of the cave in which he quartered,
when an Arab courier rode to him, and delivered a letter.
Breaking the package, he read,
"Jerusalem, Nisan IV.
"A prophet has appeared who men say is Elias. He has been in the
wilderness for years, and to our eyes he is a prophet; and such
also is his speech, the burden of which is of one much greater than
himself, who, he says, is to come presently, and for whom he is now
waiting on the eastern shore of the River Jordan. I have been to
see and hear him, and the one he is waiting for is certainly the
King you are awaiting. Come and judge for yourself.
"All Jerusalem is going out to the prophet, and with many people
else the shore on which he abides is like Mount Olivet in the last
days of the Passover.
Ben-Hur's face flushed with joy.
"By this word, O my friends," he said--"by this word, our waiting
is at end. The herald of the King has appeared and announced him."
Upon hearing the letter read, they also rejoiced at the promise
it held out.
"Get ready now," he added, "and in the morning set your faces homeward;
when arrived there, send word to those under you, and bid them be
ready to assemble as I may direct. For myself and you, I will go
see if the King be indeed at hand, and send you report. Let us,
in the meantime, live in the pleasure of the promise."
Going into the cave, he addressed a letter to Ilderim, and another
to Simonides, giving notice of the news received, and of his purpose
to go up immediately to Jerusalem. The letters he despatched by
swift messengers. When night fell, and the stars of direction
came out, he mounted, and with an Arab guide set out for the
Jordan, intending to strike the track of the caravans between
Rabbath-Ammon and Damascus.
The guide was sure, and Aldebaran swift; so by midnight the two
were out of the lava fastness speeding southward.