Ben-Hur pitched two tents out on the Upper Cedron east a short space
of the Tombs of the Kings, and furnished them with every comfort
at his command; and thither, without loss of time, he conducted
his mother and sister, to remain until the examining priest could
certify their perfect cleansing.
In course of the duty, the young man had subjected himself to
such serious defilement as to debar him from participation in
the ceremonies of the great feast, then near at hand. He could not
enter the least sacred of the courts of the Temple. Of necessity,
not less than choice, therefore, he stayed at the tents with his
beloved people. There was a great deal to hear from them, and a
great deal to tell them of himself.
Stories such as theirs--sad experiences extending through a lapse
of years, sufferings of body, acuter sufferings of mind--are usually
long in the telling, the incidents seldom following each other in
threaded connection. He listened to the narrative and all they
told him, with outward patience masking inward feeling. In fact,
his hatred of Rome and Romans reached a higher mark than ever; his
desire for vengeance became a thirst which attempts at reflection
only intensified. In the almost savage bitterness of his humor many
mad impulses took hold of him. The opportunities of the highways
presented themselves with singular force of temptation; he thought
seriously of insurrection in Galilee; even the sea, ordinarily a
retrospective horror to him, stretched itself map-like before his
fancy, laced and interlaced with lines of passage crowded with
imperial plunder and imperial travellers; but the better judgment
matured in calmer hours was happily too firmly fixed to be supplanted
by present passion however strong. Each mental venture in reach of new
expedients brought him back to the old conclusion--that there could be
no sound success except in a war involving all Israel in solid union;
and all musing upon the subject, all inquiry, all hope, ended where
they began--in the Nazarene and his purposes.
At odd moments the excited schemer found a pleasure in fashioning
a speech for that person:
"Hear, O Israel! I am he, the promised of God, born King of the
Jews--come to you with the dominion spoken of by the prophets.
Rise now, and lay hold on the world!"
Would the Nazarene but speak these few words, what a tumult would
follow! How many mouths performing the office of trumpets would
take them up and blow them abroad for the massing of armies!
Would he speak them?
And eager to begin the work, and answering in the worldly way,
Ben-Hur lost sight of the double nature of the man, and of the
other possibility, that the divine in him might transcend the human.
In the miracle of which Tirzah and his mother were the witnesses
even more nearly than himself, he saw and set apart and dwelt upon
a power ample enough to raise and support a Jewish crown over the
wrecks of the Italian, and more than ample to remodel society, and
convert mankind into one purified happy family; and when that work
was done, could any one say the peace which might then be ordered
without hindrance was not a mission worthy a son of God? Could any
one then deny the Redeemership of the Christ? And discarding all
consideration of political consequences, what unspeakable personal
glory there would then be to him as a man? It was not in the nature
of any mere mortal to refuse such a career.
Meantime down the Cedron, and in towards Bezetha, especially on
the roadsides quite up to the Damascus Gate, the country filled
rapidly with all kinds of temporary shelters for pilgrims to the
Passover. Ben-Hur visited the strangers, and talked with them; and
returning to his tents, he was each time more and more astonished
at the vastness of their numbers. And when he further discovered
that every part of the world was represented among them--cities
upon both shores of the Mediterranean far off as the Pillars of
the West, river-towns in distant India, provinces in northernmost
Europe; and that, though they frequently saluted him with tongues
unacquainted with a syllable of the old Hebrew of the fathers,
these representatives had all the same object--celebration of
the notable feast--an idea tinged mistily with superstitious fancy
forced itself upon him. Might he not after all have misunderstood
the Nazarene? Might not that person by patient waiting be covering
silent preparation, and proving his fitness for the glorious
task before him? How much better this time for the movement than
that other when, by Gennesaret, the Galileans would have forced
assumption of the crown? Then the support would have been limited
to a few thousands; now his proclamation would be responded to
by millions--who could say how many? Pursuing this theory to its
conclusions, Ben-Hur moved amidst brilliant promises, and glowed
with the thought that the melancholy man, under gentle seeming
and wondrous self-denial, was in fact carrying in disguise the
subtlety of a politician and the genius of a soldier.
Several times also, in the meanwhile, low-set, brawny men,
bareheaded and black-bearded, came and asked for Ben-Hur at
the tent; his interviews with them were always apart; and to
his mother's question who they were he answered,
"Some good friends of mine from Galilee."
Through them he kept informed of the movements of the Nazarene,
and of the schemes of the Nazarene's enemies, Rabbinical and Roman.
That the good man's life was in danger, he knew; but that there
were any bold enough to attempt to take it at that time, he could
not believe. It seemed too securely intrenched in a great fame
and an assured popularity. The very vastness of the attendance in
and about the city brought with it a seeming guaranty of safety.
And yet, to say truth, Ben-Hur's confidence rested most certainly
upon the miraculous power of the Christ. Pondering the subject in
the purely human view, that the master of such authority over life
and death, used so frequently for the good of others, would not
exert it in care of himself was simply as much past belief as it
was past understanding.
Nor should it be forgotten that all these were incidents of
occurrence between the twenty-first day of March--counting
by the modern calendar--and the twenty-fifth. The evening of
the latter day Ben-Hur yielded to his impatience, and rode to
the city, leaving behind him a promise to return in the night.
The horse was fresh, and choosing his own gait, sped swiftly.
The eyes of the clambering vines winked at the rider from the
garden fences on the way; there was nothing else to see him,
nor child nor woman nor man. Through the rocky float in the
hollows of the road the agate hoofs drummed, ringing like cups
of steel; but without notice from any stranger. In the houses
passed there were no tenants; the fires by the tent-doors were
out; the road was deserted; for this was the first Passover eve,
and the hour "between the evenings" when the visiting millions
crowded the city, and the slaughter of lambs in offering reeked
the fore-courts of the Temple, and the priests in ordered lines
caught the flowing blood and carried it swiftly to the dripping
altars--when all was haste and hurry, racing with the stars fast
coming with the signal after which the roasting and the eating and
the singing might go on, but not the preparation more.
Through the great northern gate the rider rode, and lo! Jerusalem
before the fall, in ripeness of glory, illuminated for the Lord.