Ben-Hur uttered a great groan.

“Then- then it is another hope broken!” he said, struggling with his feelings. “I am used to disappointments. I pray you pardon my intrusion; and if I have occasioned you annoyance, forgive it because of my sorrow. I have nothing now to live for but vengeance. Farewell.”

At the curtain he turned, and said, simply, “I thank you both.”

“Peace go with you,” the merchant said.

Esther could not speak for sobbing.

And so he departed.


CHAPTER IV.

SIMONIDES AND ESTHER.

SCARCELY was Ben-Hur gone, when Simonides seemed to wake as from sleep: his countenance flushed; the sullen light of his eyes changed to brightness; and he said, cheerily- “Esther, ring- quick!”

She went to the table, and rang a service-bell.

One of the panels in the wall swung back, exposing a doorway which gave admittance to a man who passed round to the merchant’s front, and saluted him with a half-sa-laam.

“Malluch, here- nearer- to the chair,” the master said, imperiously. “I have a mission which shall not fail though the sun should. Hearken! A young man is now descending to the storeroom tall, comely, and in the garb of Israel; follow him, his shadow not more faithful; and every night send me report of where he is, what he does, and the company he keeps; and if, without discovery, you overhear his conversations, report them word for word, together with whatever will serve to expose him, his habits, motives, life. Understand you? Go quickly! Stay, Malluch: if he leave the city, go after him- and, mark you, Malluch, be as a friend. If he bespeak you, tell him what you will to the occasion most suited, except that you are in my service; of that, not a word. Haste- make haste!”

The man saluted as before, and was gone.

Then Simonides rubbed his wan hands together and laughed.

“What is the day, daughter?” he said, in the midst of the mood. “What is the day? I wish to remember it for happiness come. See, and look for it laughing, and laughing tell me, Esther.”

The merriment seemed unnatural to her; and, as if to entreat him from it, she answered, sorrowfully, “Woe’s me, father, that I should ever forget this day!”

His hands fell down the instant, and his chin, dropping upon his breast, lost itself in the muffling folds of flesh composing his lower face.

“True, most true, my daughter!” he said, without looking up. “This is the twentieth day of the fourth month. To-day five years ago, my Rachel, thy mother, fell down and died. They brought me home broken as thou seest me, and we found her dead of grief. Oh, to me she was a cluster of camphire in the vineyards of Engedi! I have gathered my myrrh with my spice. I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey. We laid her away in a lonely place- in a tomb cut in the mountain; no one near her. Yet in the darkness she left me a little light, which the years have increased to a brightness of morning.” He raised his hand and rested it upon his daughter’s head. “Dear Lord, I thank thee that now in my Esther my lost Rachel liveth again!”