“I could not choose but hear.”
“Then pledge me. By the gods- ”
“Nay, good tribune, I am a Jew.”
“By thy God, then, or in the form most sacred to those of thy faith- pledge me to do what I tell thee now, and as I tell thee; I am waiting, let me have thy promise.”
“Noble Arrius, I am warned by thy manner to expect something of gravest concern. Tell me thy wish first.”
“Wilt thou promise, then?”
“That were to give the pledge, and- Blessed be the God of my fathers! yonder cometh a ship!”
“In what direction?”- “From the north.”- “Canst thou tell her nationality by outward signs?”- “No. My service hath been at the oars.”- “Hath she a flag?”- “I cannot see one.”
Arrius remained quiet some time, apparently in deep reflection.
“Does the ship hold this way yet?” he at length asked.- “Still this way.”- “Look for the flag now.”- “She hath none.”- “Nor any other sign?”
“She hath a sail set, and is of three banks, and cometh swiftly- that is all I can say of her.”
“A Roman in triumph would have out many flags. She must be an enemy. Hear, now,” said Arrius, becoming grave again, “hear, while yet I may speak. If the galley be a pirate, thy life is safe; they may not give thee freedom; they may put thee to the oar again; but they will not kill thee. On the other hand, I- ”
The tribune faltered.
“Perpol!” he continued, resolutely. “I am too old to submit to dishonour. In Rome let them tell how Quintus Arrius, as became a Roman tribune, went down with his ship in the midst of the foe. This is what I would have thee do. If the galley prove a pirate, push me from the plank and drown me. Dost thou hear? Swear thou wilt do it.”
“I will not swear,” said Ben-Hur, firmly; “neither will I do the deed. The Law, which is to me most binding, O tribune, would make me answerable for thy life. Take back the ring”- he took the seal from his finger- “take it back, and all thy promises of favour in the event of delivery from this peril. The judgment which sent me to the oar for life made me a slave, yet I am not a slave; no more am I thy freedman. I am a son of Israel, and this moment, at least, my own master. Take back the ring.”
Arrius remained passive.
“Thou wilt not?” Judah continued. “Not in anger, then, nor in any despite, but to free myself from a hateful obligation, I will give thy gift to the sea. See, O tribune!”
He tossed the ring away. Arrius heard the splash where it struck and sank, though he did not look.
“Thou hast done a foolish thing,” he said- “foolish for one placed as thou art. I am not dependent upon thee for death. Life is a thread I can break without thy help; and, if I do, what will become of thee? Men determined on death prefer it at the hands of others, for the reason that the soul which Plato giveth us is rebellious at the thought of self-destruction; that is all. If the ship be a pirate, I will escape from the world. My mind is fixed. I am a Roman. Success and honour are all in all. Yet I would have served thee; thou wouldst not. The ring was the only witness of my will available in this situation. We are both lost. I will die regretting the victory and glory wrested from me; thou wilt live to die a little later, mourning the pious duties undone because of this folly. I pity thee.”