“Not ten years.”
“He must have had a good start.”
“Yes, they say the procurator took only the prince’s property ready at hand- his horses, cattle, houses, land, vessels, goods. The money could not be found, though there must have been vast sums of it. What became of it has been an unsolved mystery.”
“Not to me,” said a passenger, with a sneer.
“I understand you,” the Hebrew answered. “Others have had your idea. That it furnished old Simonides his start is a common belief. The procurator is of that opinion- or he has been- for twice in five years he has caught the merchant, and put him to torture.”
Judah griped the rope he was holding with crushing force.
“It is said,” the narrator continued, “that there is not a sound bone in the man’s body. The last time I saw him he sat in a chair, a shapeless cripple, propped against cushions.”
“So tortured!” exclaimed several listeners in a breath.
“Disease could not have produced such a deformity. Still the suffering made no impression upon him. All he had was his lawfully, and he was making lawful use of it- that was the most they wrung from him. Now, however, he is past persecution. He has a license to trade signed by Tiberius himself.”
“He paid roundly for it, I warrant.”
“These ships are his,” the Hebrew continued, passing the remark. “It is a custom among his sailors to salute each other upon meeting by throwing out yellow flags, sight of which is as much as to say, ‘We have had a fortunate voyage.'”
The story ended there.
When the transport was fairly in the channel of the river, Judah spoke to the Hebrew.
“What was the name of the merchant’s master?”
“Ben-Hur, Prince of Jerusalem.”
“What became of the prince’s family?”
“The boy was sent to the galleys. I may say he is dead. One year is the ordinary limit of life under that sentence. The widow and daughter have not been heard of; those who know what became of them will not speak. They died, doubtless, in the cells of one of the castles which spot the waysides of Judea.”
Judah walked to the pilot’s quarter. So absorbed was he in thought that he scarcely noticed the shores of the river, which from sea to city were surpassingly beautiful with orchards of all the Syrian fruits and vines, clustered about villas rich as those of Neapolis. No more did he observe the vessels passing in an endless fleet, nor hear the singing and shouting of the sailors, some in labour, some in merriment. The sky was full of sunlight, lying in hazy warmth upon the land and the water; nowhere except over his life was there a shadow.
Once only he awoke to a momentary interest, and that was when some one pointed out the Grove of Daphne, discernible from a bend in the river.