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CHAPTER VIII



The streets were full of people going and coming, or grouped about
the fires roasting meat, and feasting and singing, and happy.
The odor of scorching flesh mixed with the odor of cedar-wood
aflame and smoking loaded the air; and as this was the occasion
when every son of Israel was full brother to every other son of
Israel, and hospitality was without bounds, Ben-Hur was saluted
at every step, while the groups by the fires insisted, "Stay and
partake with us. We are brethren in the love of the Lord." But with
thanks to them he hurried on, intending to take horse at the khan
and return to the tents on the Cedron.

To make the place, it was necessary for him to cross the
thoroughfare so soon to receive sorrowful Christian perpetuation.
There also the pious celebration was at its height. Looking up
the street, he noticed the flames of torches in motion streaming
out like pennons; then he observed that the singing ceased where
the torches came. His wonder rose to its highest, however, when he
became certain that amidst the smoke and dancing sparks he saw the
keener sparkling of burnished spear-tips, arguing the presence of
Roman soldiers. What were they, the scoffing legionaries, doing in
a Jewish religious procession? The circumstance was unheard of,
and he stayed to see the meaning of it.

The moon was shining its best; yet, as if the moon and the torches,
and the fires in the street, and the rays streaming from windows
and open doors were not enough to make the way clear, some of the
processionists carried lighted lanterns; and fancying he discovered
a special purpose in the use of such equipments, Ben-Hur stepped
into the street so close to the line of march as to bring every
one of the company under view while passing. The torches and the
lanterns were being borne by servants, each of whom was armed with
a bludgeon or a sharpened stave. Their present duty seemed to be
to pick out the smoothest paths among the rocks in the street for
certain dignitaries among them--elders and priests; rabbis with long
beards, heavy brows, and beaked noses; men of the class potential in
the councils of Caiaphas and Hannas. Where could they be going?
Not to the Temple, certainly, for the route to the sacred house
from Zion, whence these appeared to be coming, was by the Xystus.
And their business--if peaceful, why the soldiers?

As the procession began to go by Ben-Hur, his attention was
particularly called to three persons walking together. They were
well towards the front, and the servants who went before them with
lanterns appeared unusually careful in the service. In the person
moving on the left of this group he recognized a chief policeman
of the Temple; the one on the right was a priest; the middle man
was not at first so easily placed, as he walked leaning heavily upon
the arms of the others, and carried his head so low upon his breast
as to hide his face. His appearance was that of a prisoner not yet
recovered from the fright of arrest, or being taken to something
dreadful--to torture or death. The dignitaries helping him on the
right and left, and the attention they gave him, made it clear that
if he were not himself the object moving the party, he was at least
in some way connected with the object--a witness or a guide, possibly
an informer. So if it could be found who he was the business in hand
might be shrewdly guessed. With great assurance, Ben-Hur fell in on
the right of the priest, and walked along with him. Now if the man
would lift his head! And presently he did so, letting the light of
the lanterns strike full in his face, pale, dazed, pinched with
dread; the beard roughed; the eyes filmy, sunken, and despairing.
In much going about following the Nazarene, Ben-Hur had come to
know his disciples as well as the Master; and now, at sight of
the dismal countenance, he cried out,

"The 'Scariot!"

Slowly the head of the man turned until his eyes settled upon
Ben-Hur, and his lips moved as if he were about to speak; but the
priest interfered.

"Who art thou? Begone!" he said to Ben-Hur, pushing him away.

The young man took the push good-naturedly, and, waiting an opportunity,
fell into the procession again. Thus he was carried passively along down
the street, through the crowded lowlands between the hill Bezetha
and the Castle of Antonia, and on by the Bethesda reservoir to the
Sheep Gate. There were people everywhere, and everywhere the people
were engaged in sacred observances.

It being Passover night, the valves of the Gate stood open. The
keepers were off somewhere feasting. In front of the procession
as it passed out unchallenged was the deep gorge of the Cedron,
with Olivet beyond, its dressing of cedar and olive trees darker of
the moonlight silvering all the heavens. Two roads met and merged
into the street at the gate--one from the northeast, the other
from Bethany. Ere Ben-Hur could finish wondering whether he were
to go farther, and if so, which road was to be taken, he was led
off down into the gorge. And still no hint of the purpose of the
midnight march.

Down the gorge and over the bridge at the bottom of it. There was
a great clatter on the floor as the crowd, now a straggling rabble,
passed over beating and pounding with their clubs and staves.
A little farther, and they turned off to the left in the direction
of an olive orchard enclosed by a stone wall in view from the road.
Ben-Hur knew there was nothing in the place but old gnarled trees,
the grass, and a trough hewn out of a rock for the treading of oil
after the fashion of the country. While, yet more wonder-struck,
he was thinking what could bring such a company at such an hour
to a quarter so lonesome, they were all brought to a standstill.
Voices called out excitedly in front; a chill sensation ran from
man to man; there was a rapid falling-back, and a blind stumbling
over each other. The soldiers alone kept their order.

It took Ben-Hur but a moment to disengage himself from the mob and
run forward. There he found a gateway without a gate admitting to
the orchard, and he halted to take in the scene.

A man in white clothes, and bareheaded, was standing outside the
entrance, his hands crossed before him--a slender, stooping figure,
with long hair and thin face--in an attitude of resignation and
waiting.

It was the Nazarene!

Behind him, next the gateway, were the disciples in a group; they
were excited, but no man was ever calmer than he. The torchlight
beat redly upon him, giving his hair a tint ruddier than was
natural to it; yet the expression of the countenance was as
usual all gentleness and pity.

Opposite this most unmartial figure stood the rabble, gaping,
silent, awed, cowering--ready at a sign of anger from him to break
and run. And from him to them--then at Judas, conspicuous in their
midst--Ben-Hur looked--one quick glance, and the object of the visit
lay open to his understanding. Here was the betrayer, there the
betrayed; and these with clubs and staves, and the legionaries,
were brought to take him.

A man may not always tell what he will do until the trial is
upon him. This was the emergency for which Ben-Hur had been
for years preparing. The man to whose security he had devoted
himself, and upon whose life he had been building so largely,
was in personal peril; yet he stood still. Such contradictions are
there in human nature! To say truth, O reader, he was not entirely
recovered from the picture of the Christ before the Gate Beautiful
as it had been given by the Egyptian; and, besides that, the very
calmness with which the mysterious person confronted the mob held
him in restraint by suggesting the possession of a power in reserve
more than sufficient for the peril. Peace and good-will, and love
and non-resistance, had been the burden of the Nazarene's teaching;
would he put his preaching into practice? He was master of life; he
could restore it when lost; he could take it at pleasure. What use
would he make of the power now? Defend himself? And how? A word--a
breath--a thought were sufficient. That there would be some signal
exhibition of astonishing force beyond the natural Ben-Hur believed,
and in that faith waited. And in all this he was still measuring the
Nazarene by himself--by the human standard.

Presently the clear voice of the Christ arose.

"Whom seek ye?"

"Jesus of Nazareth," the priest replied.

"I am he."

At these simplest of words, spoken without passion or alarm,
the assailants fell back several steps, the timid among them
cowering to the ground; and they might have let him alone and
gone away had not Judas walked over to him.

"Hail, master!"

With this friendly speech, he kissed him.

"Judas," said the Nazarene, mildly, "betrayest thou the Son of
man with a kiss? Wherefore art thou come?"

Receiving no reply, the Master spoke to the crowd again.

"Whom seek ye?"

"Jesus of Nazareth."

"I have told you that I am he. If, therefore, you seek me, let these
go their way."

At these words of entreaty the rabbis advanced upon him; and,
seeing their intent, some of the disciples for whom he interceded
drew nearer; one of them cut off a man's ear, but without saving
the Master from being taken. And yet Ben-Hur stood still! Nay,
while the officers were making ready with their ropes the Nazarene
was doing his greatest charity--not the greatest in deed, but the
very greatest in illustration of his forbearance, so far surpassing
that of men.

"Suffer ye thus far," he said to the wounded man, and healed him
with a touch.

Both friends and enemies were confounded--one side that he could do
such a thing, the other that he would do it under the circumstances.

"Surely he will not allow them to bind him!"

Thus thought Ben-Hur.

"Put up thy sword into the sheath; the cup which my Father hath
given me, shall I not drink it?" From the offending follower,
the Nazarene turned to his captors. "Are you come out as against
a thief, with swords and staves to take me? I was daily with you
in the Temple, and you took me not; but this is your hour, and the
power of darkness."

The posse plucked up courage and closed about him; and when Ben-Hur
looked for the faithful they were gone--not one of them remained.

The crowd about the deserted man seemed very busy with tongue, hand,
and foot. Over their heads, between the torch-sticks, through the
smoke, sometimes in openings between the restless men, Ben-Hur caught
momentary glimpses of the prisoner. Never had anything struck him as
so piteous, so unfriended, so forsaken! Yet, he thought, the man
could have defended himself--he could have slain his enemies with
a breath, but he would not. What was the cup his father had given
him to drink? And who was the father to be so obeyed? Mystery upon
mystery--not one, but many.

Directly the mob started in return to the city, the soldiers
in the lead. Ben-Hur became anxious; he was not satisfied with
himself. Where the torches were in the midst of the rabble he
knew the Nazarene was to be found. Suddenly he resolved to see
him again. He would ask him one question.

Taking off his long outer garment and the handkerchief from his
head, he threw them upon the orchard wall, and started after the
posse, which he boldly joined. Through the stragglers he made way,
and by littles at length reached the man who carried the ends of
the rope with which the prisoner was bound.

The Nazarene was walking slowly, his head down, his hands bound
behind him; the hair fell thickly over his face, and he stooped
more than usual; apparently he was oblivious to all going on
around him. In advance a few steps were priests and elders talking
and occasionally looking back. When, at length, they were all near
the bridge in the gorge, Ben-Hur took the rope from the servant who
had it, and stepped past him.

"Master, master!" he said, hurriedly, speaking close to the
Nazarene's ear. "Dost thou hear, master? A word--one word.
Tell me--"

The fellow from whom he had taken the rope now claimed it.

"Tell me," Ben-Hur continued, "goest thou with these of thine own
accord?"

The people were come up now, and in his own ears asking angrily,
"Who art thou, man?"

"O master," Ben-Hur made haste to say, his voice sharp with anxiety,
"I am thy friend and lover. Tell me, I pray thee, if I bring rescue,
wilt thou accept it?"

The Nazarene never so much as looked up or allowed the slightest
sign of recognition; yet the something which when we are suffering
is always telling it to such as look at us, though they be strangers,
failed not now. "Let him alone," it seemed to say; "he has been
abandoned by his friends; the world has denied him; in bitterness
of spirit, he has taken farewell of men; he is going he knows not
where, and he cares not. Let him alone."

And to that Ben-Hur was now driven. A dozen hands were upon him,
and from all sides there was shouting, "He is one of them. Bring
him along; club him--kill him!"

With a gust of passion which gave him many times his ordinary force,
Ben-Hur raised himself, turned once about with arms outstretched,
shook the hands off, and rushed through the circle which was fast
hemming him in. The hands snatching at him as he passed tore his
garments from his back, so he ran off the road naked; and the gorge,
in keeping of the friendly darkness, darker there than elsewhere,
received him safe.

Reclaiming his handkerchief and outer garments from the orchard
wall, he followed back to the city gate; thence he went to the
khan, and on the good horse rode to the tents of his people out
by the Tombs of the Kings.

As he rode, he promised himself to see the Nazarene on the morrow
--promised it, not knowing that the unfriended man was taken straightway
to the house of Hannas to be tried that night.

The heart the young man carried to his couch beat so heavily he
could not sleep; for now clearly his renewed Judean kingdom resolved
itself into what it was--only a dream. It is bad enough to see our
castles overthrown one after another with an interval between
in which to recover from the shock, or at least let the echoes
of the fall die away; but when they go altogether--go as ships
sink, as houses tumble in earthquakes--the spirits which endure
it calmly are made of stuffs sterner than common, and Ben-Hur's
was not of them. Through vistas in the future, he began to catch
glimpses of a life serenely beautiful, with a home instead of a
palace of state, and Esther its mistress. Again and again through
the leaden-footed hours of the night he saw the villa by Misenum,
and with his little countrywoman strolled through the garden,
and rested in the panelled atrium; overhead the Neapolitan sky,
at their feet the sunniest of sun-lands and the bluest of bays.

In plainest speech, he was entering upon a crisis with which
to-morrow and the Nazarene will have everything to do.





Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace
Category:
General Fiction
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