He stopped close by to survey the assemblage.
“Oh, Rabbi, good Rabbi Joseph!” cried a woman, running to him. “Here is a prisoner; come, ask the soldiers about him, that we may know who he is, and what he has done, and what they are going to do with him.”
The rabbi’s face remained stolid; he glanced at the prisoner, however, and presently went to the officer.
“The peace of the Lord be with you!” he said, with unbending gravity.
“And that of the gods with you,” the decurion replied.
“Are you from Jerusalem?”
“Your prisoner is young.”
“In years, yes.”
“May I ask what he has done?”
“He is an assassin.”
The people repeated the word in astonishment, but Rabbi Joseph pursued his inquest.
“Is he a son of Israel?”
“He is a Jew,” said the Roman, dryly.
The wavering pity of the bystanders came back.
“I know nothing of your tribes, but can speak of his family,” the speaker continued. “You may have heard of a prince of Jerusalem named Hur- Ben-Hur, they call him. He lived in Herod’s day.”
“I have seen him,” Joseph said.
“Well, this is his son.”
Exclamations became general, and the decurion hastened to stop them.
“In the streets of Jerusalem, day before yesterday, he nearly killed the noble Gratus by flinging a tile upon his head from the roof of a palace- his father’s, I believe.”
There was a pause in the conversation, during which the Nazarenes gazed at the young Ben-Hur as at a wild beast.
“Did he kill him?” asked the rabbi.
“He is under sentence.”
“Yes- the galleys for life.”
“The Lord help him!” said Joseph, for once moved out of his stolidity.
Thereupon a youth who came up with Joseph, but had stood behind him unobserved, laid down an axe he had been carrying, and, going to the great stone standing by the well, took from it a pitcher of water. The action was so quiet that before the guard could interfere, had they been disposed to do so, he was stooping over the prisoner and offering him a drink.
The hand laid kindly upon his shoulder awoke the unfortunate Judah, and, looking up, he saw a face he never forgot- the face of a boy about his own age, shaded by locks of yellowish bright chestnut hair; a face lighted by dark-blue eyes, at the time so soft, so appealing, so full of love and holy purpose, that they had all the power of command and will. The spirit of the Jew, hardened though it was by days and nights of suffering, and so imbittered by wrong that its dreams of revenge took in all the world, melted under the stranger’s look, and became as a child’s. He put his lips to the pitcher, and drank long and deep. Not a word was said to him, nor did he say a word.