Directly he lifted his head, and said, as with a sudden thought, “Is it not clear day outside?”
“It was, when the young man came in.”
“Then let Abimelech come and take me to the garden, where I can see the river and the ships, and I will tell thee, dear Esther, why but now my mouth filled with laughter, and my tongue with singing, and my spirit was like to a roe or to a young hart upon the mountains of spices.”
In answer to the bell a servant came, and at her bidding pushed the chair, set on little wheels for the purpose, out of the room to the roof of the lower house, called by him his garden. Out through the roses, and by beds of lesser flowers, all triumphs of careful attendance, but now unnoticed, he was rolled to a position from which he could view the palace-tops over against him on the island, the bridge in lessening perspective to the farther shore, and the river below the bridge crowded with vessels, all swimming amidst the dancing splendours of the early sun upon the rippling water. There the servant left him with Esther.
The much shouting of labourers, and their beating and pounding, did not disturb him any more than the trampling of people on the bridge-floor almost overhead, being as familiar to his ear as the view before him to his eye, and therefore unnoticeable, except as suggestions of profits in promise.
Esther sat on the arm of the chair nursing his hand, and waiting his speech, which came at length in a calm way, the mighty will having carried him back to himself.
“When the young man was speaking, Esther, I observed thee, and thought thou wert won by him.”
Her eyes fell as she replied.
“Speak you of faith, father? I believed him.”
“In thy eyes, then, he is the lost son of the Prince Hur?”
“If he is not- ” She hesitated.
“And if he is not, Esther?”
“I have been thy handmaiden, father, since my mother answered the call of the Lord God; by thy side I have heard and seen thee deal in wise ways with all manner of men seeking profit, holy and unholy; and now I say, if indeed the young man be not the prince he claims to be, then before me falsehood never played so well the part of righteous truth.”
“By the glory of Solomon, daughter, thou speakest earnestly. Dost thou believe thy father his father’s servant?”
“I understood him to ask of that as something he had but heard.”
For a time Simonides’ gaze swam among his swimming ships, though they had no place in his mind.
“Well, thou art a good child, Esther, of genuine Jewish shrewdness, and of years and strength to hear a sorrowful tale. Wherefore give me heed, and I will tell you of myself, and of thy mother, and of many things pertaining to the past not in thy knowledge or thy dreams- things withheld from the persecuting Roman for a hope’s sake, and from thee that thy nature should grow towards the Lord straight as the reed to the sun…. I was born in a tomb in the valley of Hinnom, on the south side of Zion. My father and mother were Hebrew bond-servants, tenders of the fig and olive trees growing, with many vines, in the King’s Garden hard by Siloam; and in my boyhood I helped them. They were of the class bound to serve forever. They sold me to the Prince Hur, then, next to Herod the King, the richest man in Jerusalem. From the garden he transferred me to his storehouse in Alexandria of Egypt, where I came of age. I served him six years, and in the seventh, by the law of Moses, I went free.”