It chanced also that as the galley from Cyprus entered the receiving bay of the Orontes, two other vessels which had been sighted out in the sea met it and passed into the river at the same time; and as they did so both the strangers threw out small flags of brightest yellow. There was much conjecture as to the meaning of the signals. At length a passenger addressed himself to the respectable Hebrew for information upon the subject.
“Yes, I know the meaning of the flags,” he replied; “they do not signify nationality- they are merely marks of ownership.”
“Has the owner many ships?”
“You know him?”
“I have dealt with him.”
The passengers looked at the speaker as if requesting him to go on. Ben-Hur listened with interest.
“He lives in Antioch,” the Hebrew continued, in his quiet way. “That he is vastly rich has brought him into notice, and the talk about him is not always kind. There used to be in Jerusalem a prince of a very ancient family named Hur.”
Judah strove to be composed, yet his heart beat quicker.
“The prince was a merchant with a genius for business. He set on foot many enterprises, some reaching far East, others West. In the great cities he had branch houses. The one in Antioch was in charge of a man said by some to have been a family servant called Simonides, Greek in name, yet an Israelite. The master was drowned at sea. His business, however, went on, and was scarcely less prosperous. After a while misfortune overtook the family. The prince’s only son, nearly grown, tried to kill the procurator Gratus in one of the streets of Jerusalem. He failed by a narrow chance, and has not since been heard of. In fact, the Roman’s rage took in the whole house- not one of the name was left alive. Their palace was sealed up, and is now a rookery for pigeons; the estate was confiscated; everything that could be traced to the ownership of the Hurs was confiscated. The procurator cured his hurt with a golden salve.”
The passengers laughed.
“You mean he kept the property,” said one of them.
“They say so,” the Hebrew replied; “I am only telling a story as I received it. And, to go on, Simonides, who had been the prince’s agent here in Antioch, opened trade in a short time on his own account, and in a space incredibly brief became the master merchant of the city. In imitation of his master, he sent caravans to India; and on the sea at present he has galleys enough to make a royal fleet. They say nothing goes amiss with him. His camels do not die, except of old age; his ships never founder; if he throw a chip into the river, it will come back to him gold.”
“How long has he been going on thus?”