THE STRANGE THINGS BEN-HUR WANTS TO KNOW.
THE mother resumed her easy position against the cushion, while the son took place on the divan, his head in her lap. Both of them, looking out of the opening, could see a stretch of lower house-tops in the vicinity, a bank of blue-blackness over in the west which they knew to be mountains, and the sky, its shadowy depths brilliant with stars. The city was still. Only the winds stirred.
“Amrah tells me something has happened to you,” she said, caressing his cheek. “When my Judah was a child, I allowed small things to trouble him, but he is now a man. He must not forget”- her voice became very soft- “that one day he is to be my hero.”
She spoke in the language almost lost in the land, but which a few- and they were always as rich in blood as in possessions- cherished in its purity, that they might be more certainly distinguished from Gentile peoples- the language in which the loved Rebekah and Rachel sang to Benjamin.
The words appeared to set him thinking anew; after a while, however, he caught the hand with which she fanned him, and said, “To-day, O my mother, I have been made to think of many things that never had place in my mind before. Tell me, first, what am I to be?”
“Have I not told you? You are to be my hero.”
He could not see her face, yet he knew she was in play. He became more serious.
“You are very good, very kind, O my mother. No one will ever love me as you do.”
He kissed the hand over and over again.
“I think I understand why you would have me put off the question,” he continued. “Thus far my life has belonged to you. How gentle, how sweet your control has been! I wish it could last forever. But that may not be. It is the Lord’s will that I shall one day become owner of myself- a day of separation, and therefore a dreadful day to you. Let us be brave and serious. I will be your hero, but you must put me in the way. You know the law- every son of Israel must have some occupation. I am not exempt, and ask now, shall I tend the herds? or till the soil? or drive the saw? or be a clerk or lawyer? What shall I be? Dear, good mother, help me to answer.”
“Gamaliel has been lecturing to-day,” she said, thoughtfully.
“If so, I did not hear him.”
“Then you have been walking with Simeon, who, they tell me, inherits the genius of his family.”
“No, I have not seen him. I have been up on the Market-place, not to the Temple. I visited the young Messala.”
A certain change in his voice attracted the mother’s attention. A presentiment quickened the beating of her heart; the fan became motionless again.