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.
|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.
|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.|
|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.