“III. The shades of the Grove are thine in the day; at night they belong to Pan and his Dryades. Disturb them not.
“IV. Eat of the Lotus by the brooksides sparingly, unless thou wouldst have surcease of memory, which is to become a child of Daphne.
“V. Walk thou round the weaving spider- ’tis Arachne at work for Minerva.
“VI. Wouldst thou behold the tears of Daphne, break but a bud from a laurel bough- and die.
“And stay and be happy.”
Ben-Hur left the interpretation of the mystic notice to others fast enclosing him, and turned away as the white bull was led by. The boy sat in the basket, followed by a procession; after them again, the woman with the goats; and behind her, the flute and tabret players, and another procession of gift-bringers.
“Whither go they?” asked a bystander.
Another made answer, “The bull to Father Jove; the goat- ”
“Did not Apollo once keep the flocks of Admetus?”
“Ay, the goat to Apollo!”
The goodness of the reader is again besought in favour of an explanation. A certain facility of accommodation in the matter of religion comes to us after much intercourse with people of a different faith; gradually we attain the truth that every creed is illustrated by good men who are entitled to our respect, but whom we cannot respect without courtesy to their creed. To this point Ben-Hur had arrived. Neither the years in Rome nor those in the galley had made an impression upon his religious faith: he was yet a Jew. In his view, nevertheless, it was not an impiety to look for the beautiful in the Grove of Daphne.
The remark does not interdict the further saying, if his scruples had been ever so extreme, not improbably he would at this time have smothered them. He was angry; not as the irritable, from chafing of a trifle; nor was his anger like the fool’s, pumped from the wells of nothing, to be dissipated by a reproach or a curse; it was the wrath peculiar to ardent natures rudely awakened by the sudden annihilation of a hope- dream, if you will- in which the choicest happinesses were thought to be certainly in reach. In such case nothing intermediate will carry off the passion- the quarrel is with Fate.
Let us follow the philosophy a little further, and say to ourselves, it were well in such quarrels if Fate were something tangible, to be despatched with a look or a blow, or a speaking personage with whom high words were possible; then the unhappy mortal would not always end the affair by punishing himself.
In ordinary mood, Ben-Hur would not have come to the Grove alone, or, coming alone, he would have availed himself of his position in the consul’s family, and made provision against wandering idly about, unknowing and unknown; he would have had all the points of interest in mind, and gone to them under guidance, as in the despatch of business; or, wishing to squander days of leisure in the beautiful place, he would have had in hand a letter to the master of it all, whoever he might be. This would have made him a sight-seer, like the shouting herd he was accompanying; whereas he had no reverence for the deities of the Grove, nor curiosity; a man in the blindness of bitter disappointment, he was adrift, not waiting for Fate, but seeking it as a desperate challenger.