On the latter point, referring to what he had as yet learned, two facts comprehended it all- the subject of his investigation was a Jew, and the adopted son of a famous Roman. Another conclusion which might be of importance was beginning to formulate itself in the shrewd mind of the emissary; between Messala and the son of the duumvir there was a connection of some kind. But what was it?- and how could it be reduced to assurance? With all his sounding, the ways and means of solution were not at call. In the heat of the perplexity, Ben-Hur himself came to his help. He laid his hand on Malluch’s arm and drew him out of the crowd, which was already going back to its interest in the grey old priest and the mystic fountain.
“Good Malluch,” he said, stopping, “may a man forget his mother?”
The question was abrupt and without direction, and therefore of the kind which leaves the person addressed in a state of confusion. Malluch looked into Ben-Hur’s face for a hint of meaning, but saw, instead, two bright-red spots, one on each cheek, and in his eyes traces of what might have been repressed tears; then he answered, mechanically, “No!” adding, with fervour, “never;” and a moment after, when he began to recover himself, “If he is an Israelite, never!” And when at length he was completely recovered- “My first lesson in the synagogue was the Shema; my next was the saying of the son of Sirach, ‘Honour thy father with thy whole soul, and forget not the sorrows of thy mother.'”
The red spots on Ben-Hur’s face deepened.
“The words bring my childhood back again; and, Malluch, they prove you a genuine Jew. I believe I can trust you.”
Ben-Hur let go the arm he was holding, and caught the folds of the gown covering his own breast, and pressed them close, as if to smother a pain, or a feeling there as sharp as a pain.
“My father,” he said, “bore a good name, and was not without honour in Jerusalem, where he dwelt. My mother, at his death, was in the prime of womanhood; and it is not enough to say of her she was good and beautiful: in her tongue was the law of kindness, and her works were the praise of all in the gates, and she smiled at days to come. I had a little sister, and she and I were the family, and we were so happy that I, at least, have never seen harm in the saying of the old rabbi, ‘God could not be everywhere, and, therefore, he made mothers.’ One day an accident happened to a Roman in authority as he was riding past our house at the head of a cohort; the legionaries burst the gate and rushed in and seized us. I have not seen my mother or sister since. I cannot say they are dead or living. I do not know what became of them. But, Malluch, the man in the chariot yonder was present at the separation; he gave us over to the captors; he heard my mother’s prayer for her children, and he laughed when they dragged her away. Hardly may one say which graves deepest in memory, love or hate. To-day I knew him afar- and, Malluch- “