This took place at a point where a path into the woods began, offering a happy escape from the noisy processions. Ben-Hur availed himself of the offer.
He walked first into a thicket which, from the road, appeared in a state of nature, close, impenetrable, a nesting-place for wild birds. A few steps, however, gave him to see the master’s hand even there. The shrubs were flowering or fruit-bearing; under the bending branches the ground was pranked with brightest blooms; over them the jasmine stretched its delicate bonds. From lilac and rose, and lily and tulip, from oleander and strawberry-tree, all old friends in the gardens of the valleys about the city of David, the air, lingering or in haste, loaded itself with exhalations day and night; and that nothing might be wanting to the happiness of the nymphs and naiads, down through the flower-lighted shadows of the mass a brook went its course gently, and by many winding ways.
Out of the thicket, as he proceeded, on his right and left, issued the cry of the pigeon and the cooing of turtle-doves; blackbirds waited for him, and bided his coming close; a nightingale kept its place fearless, though he passed in arm’s-length; a quail ran before him at his feet, whistling to the brood she was leading, and as he paused for them to get out of his way, a figure crawled from a bed of honeyed musk brilliant with balls of golden blossoms. Ben-Hur was startled. Had he, indeed, been permitted to see a satyr at home? The creature looked up at him, and showed in its teeth a hooked pruning-knife; he smiled at his own scare, and, lo! the charm was evolved! Peace without fear- peace a universal condition- that it was! He sat upon the ground beneath a citron-tree, which spread its grey roots sprawling to receive a branch of the brook. The nest of a titmouse hung close to the bubbling water, and the tiny creature looked out of the door of the nest into his eyes. “Verily, the bird is interpreting to me,” he thought. “It says, ‘I am not afraid of you, for the law of this happy place is Love.'”
The charm of the Grove seemed plain to him; he was glad, and determined to render himself one of the lost in Daphne. In charge of the flowers and shrubs, and watching the growth of all the dumb excellences everywhere to be seen, could not he, like the man with the pruning-knife in his mouth, forego the days of his troubled life- forego them forgetting and forgotten? But by-and-by his Jewish nature began to stir within him.
The charm might be sufficient for some people. Of what kind were they? Love is delightful- ah! how pleasant as a successor to wretchedness like his. But was it all there was of life? All? There was an unlikeness between him and those who buried themselves contentedly here. They had no duties- they could not have had; but he- “God of Israel!” he cried aloud, springing to his feet, with burning cheeks- “Mother! Tirzah! Cursed be the moment, cursed the place, in which I yield myself happy in your loss!”