Every one has known this condition of mind, though perhaps not all in the same degree; every one will recognize it as the condition in which he has done brave things with apparent serenity; and every one reading will say, Fortunate for Ben-Hur if the folly which now catches him is but a friendly harlequin with whistle and painted cap, and not some Violence with a pointed sword pitiless.
THE MULBERRIES OF DAPHNE.
BEN-HUR entered the woods with the processions. He had not interest enough at first to ask where they were going; yet, to relieve him from absolute indifference, he had a vague impression that they were in movement to the temples, which were the central objects of the Grove, supreme in attractions.
Presently, as singers dreamfully play with a flitting chorus, he began repeating to himself, “Better be a worm, and feed on the mulberries of Daphne, than a king’s guest.” Then of the much repetition arose questions importunate of answer. Was life in the Grove so very sweet? Wherein was the charm? Did it lie in some tangled depth of philosophy? Or was it something in fact, something on the surface, discernible to every-day wakeful senses! Every year thousands, forswearing the world, gave themselves to service here. Did they find the charm? And was it sufficient, when found, to induce forgetfulness profound enough to shut out of mind the infinitely diverse things of life? those that sweeten and those that imbitter? hopes hovering in the near future as well as sorrows born of the past? If the Grove were so good for them, why should it not be good for him? He was a Jew; could it be that the excellences were for all the world but children of Abraham? Forthwith he bent all his faculties to the task of discovery, unmindful of the singing of the gift-bringers and the quips of his associates.
In the quest, the sky yielded him nothing; it was blue, very blue, and full of twittering swallows- so was the sky over the city.
Further on, out of the woods at his right hand, a breeze poured across the road, splashing him with a wave of sweet smells, blent of roses and consuming spices. He stopped, as did others, looking the way the breeze came.
“A garden over there,” he said, to a man at his elbow.
“Rather some priestly ceremony in performance- something to Diana, or Pan, or a deity of the woods.”
The answer was in his mother tongue. Ben-Hur gave the speaker a surprised look.
“A Hebrew?” he asked him.
The man replied with a deferential smile, “I was born within a stone’s-throw of the Market-place in Jerusalem.”
Ben-Hur was proceeding to further speech, when the crowd surged forward, thrusting him out on the side of the walk next the woods, and carrying the stranger away. The customary gown and staff, a brown cloth on the head tied by a yellow rope, and a strong Judean face to avouch the garments of honest right, remained in the young man’s mind, a kind of summary of the man.