“Mother- mother! And my little Tirzah! Where are they? O tribune, noble tribune, if thou knowest anything of them”- he clasped his hands in appeal- “tell me all thou knowest. Tell me if they are living- if living, where are they? and in what condition? Oh, I pray thee, tell me!”
He drew nearer Arrius, so near that his hands touched the cloak where it dropped from the latter’s folded arms.
“The horrible day is three years gone,” he continued- “three years, O tribune, and every hour a whole lifetime of misery- a lifetime in a bottomless pit with death, and no relief but in labour- and in all that time not a word from anyone, not a whisper. Oh, if, in being forgotten, we could only forget! If only I could hide from that scene- my sister torn from me, my mother’s last look! I have felt the plague’s breath, and the shock of ships in battle; I have heard the tempest lashing the sea, and laughed, though others prayed: death would have been a riddance. Bend the oar- yes, in the strain of mighty effort trying to escape the haunting of what that day occurred, Think what little will help me. Tell me they are dead, if no more, for happy they cannot be while I am lost. I have heard them call me in the night; I have seen them on the water walking. Oh, never anything so true as my mother’s love! And Tirzah- her breath was as the breath of white lilies. She was the youngest branch of the palm- so fresh, so tender, so graceful, so beautiful! She made my day all morning. She came and went in music. And mine was the hand that laid them low! I- ”
“Dost thou admit thy guilt?” asked Arrius, sternly.
The change that came upon Ben-Hur was wonderful to see, it was so instant and extreme. The voice sharpened; the hands arose tight-clenched; every fibre thrilled; his eyes flamed.
“Thou hast heard of the God of my fathers,” he said; “of the infinite Jehovah. By his truth and almightiness, and by the love with which he hath followed Israel from the beginning, I swear I am innocent!”
The tribune was much moved.
“O noble Roman!” continued Ben-Hur, “give me a little faith, and, into my darkness, deeper darkening every day, send a light!”
Arrius turned away, and walked the deck.
“Didst thou not have a trial?” he asked, stopping suddenly.
The Roman raised his head, surprised.
“No trial- no witnesses! Who passed judgment upon thee?”
Romans, it should be remembered, were at no time such lovers of the law and its forms as in the ages of their decay.
“They bound me with cords, and dragged me to a vault in the Tower. I saw no one. No one spoke to me. Next day soldiers took me to the seaside. I have been a galley-slave ever since.”