In this instance there were many circumstances certainly in the young man’s favour, and some to be supposed. Possibly Arrius knew Valerius Gratus without loving him. Possibly he had known the elder Hur. In the course of his appeal Judah had asked him of that, and, as will be noticed, he had made no reply.
For once the tribune was at loss, and hesitated. His power was ample. He was monarch of the ship. His prepossessions all moved him to mercy. His faith was won. Yet, he said to himself, there was no haste- or, rather, there was haste to Cythera; the best rower could not then be spared; he would wait; he would learn more; he would at least be sure this was the prince Ben-Hur, and that he was of a right disposition. Ordinarily slaves were liars.
“It is enough,” he said aloud. “Go back to thy place.”
Ben-Hur bowed, looked once more into the master’s face, but saw nothing for hope. He turned away slowly, looked back, and said- “If thou dost think of me again, O tribune, let it not be lost in thy mind that I prayed thee only for word of my people- mother, sister.”
He moved on.
Arrius followed him with admiring eyes.
“Perpol!” he thought. “With teaching, what a man for the arena! What a runner! Ye gods! what an arm for the sword or the cestus!- Stay!” he said aloud.
Ben-Hur stopped, and the tribune went to him.
“If thou wert free, what wouldst thou do?”
“The noble Arrius mocks me!” Judah said, with trembling lips.
“No; by the gods, no!”
“Then I will answer gladly. I would give myself to duty the first of life. I would know no other. I would know no rest until my mother and Tirzah were restored to home. I would give every day and hour to their happiness. I would wait upon them; never a slave more faithful. They have lost much, but, by the God of my fathers, I would find them more!”
The answer was unexpected by the Roman. For a moment he lost his purpose.
“I spoke to thy ambition,” he said, recovering. “If thy mother and sister were dead, or not to be found, what wouldst thou do?”
A distinct pallor overspread Ben-Hur’s face, and he looked over the sea. There was a struggle with some strong feeling; when it was conquered, he turned to the tribune.
“What pursuit would I follow?” he asked.
“Tribune, I will tell thee truly. Only the night before the dreadful day of which I have spoken, I obtained permission to be a soldier. I am of the same mind yet; and, as in all the earth there is but one school of war, thither I would go.”
“The Palaestra!” exclaimed Arrius.
“No; a Roman camp.”
“But thou must first acquaint thyself with the use of arms.”