eBooks Cube
 
CHAPTER II



An hour or thereabouts after the scene upon the roof, Balthasar and
Simonides, the latter attended by Esther, met in the great chamber
of the palace; and while they were talking, Ben-Hur and Iras came
in together.

The young Jew, advancing in front of his companion, walked first
to Balthasar, and saluted him, and received his reply; then he
turned to Simonides, but paused at sight of Esther.

It is not often we have hearts roomy enough for more than one of
the absorbing passions at the same time; in its blaze the others
may continue to live, but only as lesser lights. So with Ben-Hur,
much study of possibilities, indulgence of hopes and dreams,
influences born of the condition of his country, influences more
direct--that of Iras, for example--had made him in the broadest
worldly sense ambitious; and as he had given the passion place,
allowing it to become a rule, and finally an imperious governor,
the resolves and impulses of former days faded imperceptibly out
of being, and at last almost out of recollection. It is at best
so easy to forget our youth; in his case it was but natural that
his own sufferings and the mystery darkening the fate of his family
should move him less and less as, in hope at least, he approached
nearer and nearer the goals which occupied all his visions. Only let
us not judge him too harshly.

He paused in surprise at seeing Esther a woman now, and so beautiful;
and as he stood looking at her a still voice reminded him of broken
vows and duties undone: almost his old self returned.

For an instant he was startled; but recovering, he went to
Esther, and said, "Peace to thee, sweet Esther--peace; and thou,
Simonides"--he looked to the merchant as he spoke--"the blessing
of the Lord be thine, if only because thou hast been a good father
to the fatherless."

Esther heard him with downcast face; Simonides answered,

"I repeat the welcome of the good Balthasar, son of Hur--welcome
to thy father's house; and sit, and tell us of thy travels, and
of thy work, and of the wonderful Nazarene--who he is, and what.
If thou art not at ease here, who shall be? Sit, I pray--there,
between us, that we may all hear."

Esther stepped out quickly and brought a covered stool, and set
it for him.

"Thanks," he said to her, gratefully.

When seated, after some other conversation, he addressed himself
to the men.

"I have come to tell you of the Nazarene."

The two became instantly attentive.

"For many days now I have followed him with such watchfulness as
one may give another upon whom he is waiting so anxiously. I have
seen him under all circumstances said to be trials and tests of
men; and while I am certain he is a man as I am, not less certain
am I that he is something more."

"What more?" asked Simonides.

"I will tell you--"

Some one coming into the room interrupted him; he turned, and arose
with extended hands.

"Amrah! Dear old Amrah!" he cried.

She came forward; and they, seeing the joy in her face, thought
not once how wrinkled and tawny it was. She knelt at his feet,
clasped his knees, and kissed his hands over and over; and when
he could he put the lank gray hair from her cheeks, and kissed
them, saying, "Good Amrah, have you nothing, nothing of them--not
a word--not one little sign?"

Then she broke into sobbing which made him answer plainer even
than the spoken word.

"God's will has been done," he next said, solemnly, in a tone to
make each listener know he had no hope more of finding his people.
In his eyes there were tears which he would not have them see,
because he was a man.

When he could again, he took seat, and said, "Come, sit by me,
Amrah--here. No? then at my feet; for I have much to say to these
good friends of a wonderful man come into the world."

But she went off, and stooping with her back to the wall, joined her
hands before her knees, content, they all thought, with seeing him.
Then Ben-Hur, bowing to the old men, began again:

"I fear to answer the question asked me about the Nazarene without
first telling you some of the things I have seen him do; and to
that I am the more inclined, my friends, because to-morrow he
will come to the city, and go up into the Temple, which he calls
his father's house, where, it is further said, he will proclaim
himself. So, whether you are right, O Balthasar, or you, Simonides,
we and Israel shall know to-morrow."

Balthasar rubbed his hands tremulously together, and asked,
"Where shall I go to see him?"

"The pressure of the crowd will be very great. Better, I think,
that you all go upon the roof above the cloisters--say upon the
Porch of Solomon."

"Can you be with us?"

"No," said Ben-Hur, "my friends will require me, perhaps, in the
procession."

"Procession!" exclaimed Simonides. "Does he travel in state?"

Ben-Hur saw the argument in mind.

"He brings twelve men with him, fishermen, tillers of the soil,
one a publican, all of the humbler class; and he and they make
their journeys on foot, careless of wind, cold, rain, or sun.
Seeing them stop by the wayside at nightfall to break bread or
lie down to sleep, I have been reminded of a party of shepherds
going back to their flocks from market, not of nobles and kings.
Only when he lifts the corners of his handkerchief to look at some
one or shake the dust from his head, I am made known he is their
teacher as well as their companion--their superior not less than
their friend.

"You are shrewd men," Ben-Hur resumed, after a pause. "You know
what creatures of certain master motives we are, and that it has
become little less than a law of our nature to spend life in eager
pursuit of certain objects; now, appealing to that law as something
by which we may know ourselves, what would you say of a man who
could be rich by making gold of the stones under his feet, yet is
poor of choice?"

"The Greeks would call him a philosopher," said Iras.

"Nay, daughter," said Balthasar, "the philosophers had never the
power to do such thing."

"How know you this man has?"

Ben-Hur answered quickly, "I saw him turn water into wine."

"Very strange, very strange," said Simonides; "but it is not so
strange to me as that he should prefer to live poor when he could
be so rich. Is he so poor?"

"He owns nothing, and envies nobody his owning. He pities the
rich. But passing that, what would you say to see a man multiply
seven loaves and two fishes, all his store, into enough to feed
five thousand people, and have full baskets over? That I saw the
Nazarene do."

"You saw it?" exclaimed Simonides.

"Ay, and ate of the bread and fish."

"More marvellous still," Ben-Hur continued, "what would you say of
a man in whom there is such healing virtue that the sick have but
to touch the hem of his garment to be cured, or cry to him afar?
That, too, I witnessed, not once, but many times. As we came out
of Jericho two blind men by the wayside called to the Nazarene,
and he touched their eyes, and they saw. So they brought a palsied
man to him, and he said merely, 'Go unto thy house,' and the man
went away well. What say you to these things?"

The merchant had no answer.

"Think you now, as I have heard others argue, that what I have told
you are tricks of jugglery? Let me answer by recalling greater things
which I have seen him do. Look first to that curse of God--comfortless,
as you all know, except by death--leprosy."

At these words Amrah dropped her hands to the floor, and in her
eagerness to hear him half arose.

"What would you say," said Ben-Hur, with increased earnestness--"what
would you say to have seen that I now tell you? A leper came to the
Nazarene while I was with him down in Galilee, and said, 'Lord, if
thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.' He heard the cry, and touched
the outcast with his hand, saying, 'Be thou clean;' and forthwith
the man was himself again, healthful as any of us who beheld the
cure, and we were a multitude."

Here Amrah arose, and with her gaunt fingers held the wiry locks
from her eyes. The brain of the poor creature had long since gone
to heart, and she was troubled to follow the speech.

"Then, again," said Ben-Hur, without stop, "ten lepers came to him
one day in a body, and falling at his feet, called out--I saw and
heard it all--called out, 'Master, Master, have mercy upon us!' He
told them, 'Go, show yourselves to the priest, as the law requires;
and before you are come there ye shall be healed.'"

"And were they?"

"Yes. On the road going their infirmity left them, so that there
was nothing to remind us of it except their polluted clothes."

"Such thing was never heard before--never in all Israel!" said
Simonides, in undertone.

And then, while he was speaking, Amrah turned away, and walked
noiselessly to the door, and went out; and none of the company
saw her go.

"The thoughts stirred by such things done under my eyes I leave you
to imagine," said Ben-Hur, continuing; "but my doubts, my misgivings,
my amazement, were not yet at the full. The people of Galilee are,
as you know, impetuous and rash; after years of waiting their swords
burned their hands; nothing would do them but action. 'He is slow to
declare himself; let us force him,' they cried to me. And I too
became impatient. If he is to be king, why not now? The legions
are ready. So as he was once teaching by the seaside we would have
crowned him whether or not; but he disappeared, and was next seen
on a ship departing from the shore. Good Simonides, the desires
that make other men mad--riches, power, even kingships offered
out of great love by a great people--move this one not at all.
What say you?"

The merchant's chin was low upon his breast; raising his head,
he replied, resolutely, "The Lord liveth, and so do the words
of the prophets. Time is in the green yet; let to-morrow answer."

"Be it so," said Balthasar, smiling.

And Ben-Hur said, "Be it so." Then he went on: "But I have not
yet done. From these things, not too great to be above suspicion
by such as did not see them in performance as I did, let me carry
you now to others infinitely greater, acknowledged since the world
began to be past the power of man. Tell me, has any one to your
knowledge ever reached out and taken from Death what Death has
made his own? Who ever gave again the breath of a life lost? Who
but--"

"God!" said Balthasar, reverently.

Ben-Hur bowed.

"O wise Egyptian! I may not refuse the name you lend me. What would
you--or you, Simonides--what would you either or both have said
had you seen as I did, a man, with few words and no ceremony,
without effort more than a mother's when she speaks to wake her
child asleep, undo the work of Death? It was down at Nain. We were
about going into the gate, when a company came out bearing a dead
man. The Nazarene stopped to let the train pass. There was a woman
among them crying. I saw his face soften with pity. He spoke to
her, then went and touched the bier, and said to him who lay upon
it dressed for burial, 'Young man, I say unto thee, Arise!' And
instantly the dead sat up and talked."

"God only is so great," said Balthasar to Simonides.

"Mark you," Ben-Hur proceeded, "I do but tell you things of which
I was a witness, together with a cloud of other men. On the way
hither I saw another act still more mighty. In Bethany there was
a man named Lazarus, who died and was buried; and after he had
lain four days in a tomb, shut in by a great stone, the Nazarene
was shown to the place. Upon rolling the stone away, we beheld
the man lying inside bound and rotting. There were many people
standing by, and we all heard what the Nazarene said, for he
spoke in a loud voice: 'Lazarus, come forth!' I cannot tell you
my feelings when in answer, as it were, the man arose and came
out to us with all his cerements about him. 'Loose him,' said the
Nazarene next, 'loose him, and let him go.' And when the napkin was
taken from the face of the resurrected, lo, my friends! the blood
ran anew through the wasted body, and he was exactly as he had been
in life before the sickness that took him off. He lives yet, and is
hourly seen and spoken to. You may go see him to-morrow. And now,
as nothing more is needed for the purpose, I ask you that which
I came to ask, it being but a repetition of what you asked me,
O Simonides, What more than a man is this Nazarene?"

The question was put solemnly, and long after midnight the company
sat and debated it; Simonides being yet unwilling to give up his
understanding of the sayings of the prophets, and Ben-Hur contending
that the elder disputants were both right--that the Nazarene was
the Redeemer, as claimed by Balthasar, and also the destined king
the merchant would have.

"To-morrow we will see. Peace to you all."

So saying, Ben-Hur took his leave, intending to return to Bethany.





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