Esther’s head drooped until her cheek touched his.
“The other love is but a memory; of which I will say further that, like a benison of the Lord, it hath a compass to contain a whole family, if only”- his voice lowered and trembled- “if only I knew where they were.”
Ben-Hur’s face suffused, and, advancing a step, he cried, impulsively, “My mother and sister! Oh, it is of them you speak!”
Esther, as if spoken to, raised her head; but Simonides returned to his calm, and answered, coldly, “Hear me to the end. Because I am that I am, and because of the loves of which I have spoken, before I make return to thy demand touching my relations to the Prince Hur, and as something which of right should come first, do thou show me proofs of who thou art. Is thy witness in writing? Or cometh it in person?”
The demand was plain, and the right of it indisputable. Ben-Hur blushed, clasped his hands, stammered, and turned away at loss. Simonides pressed him.
“The proofs, the proofs, I say! Set them before me- lay them in my hands!”
Yet Ben-Hur had no answer. He had not anticipated the requirement; and, now that it was made, to him as never before came the awful fact that the three years in the galley had carried away all the proofs of his identity; mother and sister gone, he did not live in the knowledge of any human being. Many there were acquainted with him, but that was all. Had Quintus Arrius been present, what could he have said more than where he found him, and that he believed the pretender to be the son of Hur? But, as will presently appear in full, the brave Roman sailor was dead. Judah had felt the loneliness before; to the core of life the sense struck him now. He stood, hands clasped, face averted, in stupefaction. Simonides respected his suffering, and waited in silence.
“Master Simonides,” he said, at length, “I can only tell my story; and I will not that unless you stay judgment so long, and with good-will deign to hear me.”
“Speak,” said Simonides, now, indeed, master of the situation- “speak, and I will listen the more willingly that I have not denied you to be the very person you claim yourself.”
Ben-Hur proceeded then, and told his life hurriedly, yet with the feeling which is the source of all eloquence; but as we are familiar with it down to his landing at Misenum, in company with Arrius, returned victorious from the AEgean, at that point we will take up the words.
“My benefactor was loved and trusted by the emperor, who heaped him with honourable rewards. The merchants of the East contributed magnificent presents, and he became doubly rich among the rich of Rome. May a Jew forget his religion? or his birthplace, if it were the Holy Land of our fathers? The good man adopted me his son by formal rites of law; and I strove to make him just return: no child was ever more dutiful to father than I to him. He would have had me a scholar; in art, philosophy, rhetoric, oratory, he would have furnished me the most famous teacher, I declined his insistence, because I was a Jew, and could not forget the Lord God, or the glory of the prophets, or the city set on the hills by David and Solomon. Oh, ask you why I accepted any of the benefactions of the Roman? I loved him; next place, I thought I could, with his help, array influences which would enable me one day to unseal the mystery close-locking the fate of my mother and sister; and to these there was yet another motive of which I shall not speak except to say it controlled me so far that I devoted myself to arms, and the acquisition of everything deemed essential to thorough knowledge of the art of war. In the palaestrae and circuses of the city I toiled, and in the camps no less; and in all of them I have a name, but not that of my fathers. The crowns I won- and on the walls of the villa by Misenum there are many of them- all came to me as the son of Arrius, the duumvir. In that relation only am I known among Romans…. In steadfast pursuit of my secret aim, I left Rome for Antioch, intending to accompany the Consul Maxentius in the campaign he is organizing against the Parthians. Master of personal skill in all arms, I seek now the higher knowledge pertaining to the conduct of bodies of men in the field. The consul has admitted me one of his military family. But yesterday, as our ship entered the Orontes, two other ships sailed in with us flying yellow flags. A fellow-passenger and countryman from Cyprus explained that the vessels belonged to Simonides, the master-merchant of Antioch; he told us, also, who the merchant was; his marvellous success in commerce; of his fleets and caravans, and their coming and going; and, not knowing I had interest in the theme beyond my associate listeners, he said Simonides was a Jew, once the servant of the Prince Hur; nor did he conceal the cruelties of Gratus, or the purpose of their infliction.”