“I will not go to the citadel to-night,” he said to the porters. “Take me to the khan nearest the bridge on the road to Seleucia.”
The party faced about, and in good time he was deposited in a public house of primitive but ample construction, within stone’s-throw of the bridge under which old Simonides had his quarters. He lay upon the house-top through the night. In his inner mind lived the thought, “Now- now I will hear of home- and mother- and the dear little Tirzah. If they are on earth, I will find them.”
THE DEMAND ON SIMONIDES.
NEXT day early, to the neglect of the city, Ben-Hur sought the house of Simonides. Through an embattled gateway he passed to a continuity of wharves; thence up the river midst a busy press, to the Seleucian Bridge, under which he paused to take in the scene.
There, directly under the bridge, was the merchant’s house, a mass of grey stone, unhewn, referrible to no style, looking, as the voyager had described it, like a buttress of the wall against which it leaned. Two immense doors in front communicated with the wharf. Some holes near the top, heavily barred, served as windows. Weeds waved from the crevices, and in places black moss splotched the otherwise bald stones.
The doors were open. Through one of them business went in; through the other it came out; and there was hurry, hurry in all its movements.
On the wharf there were piles of goods in every kind of package, and groups of slaves, stripped to the waist, going about in the abandon of labour.
Below the bridge lay a fleet of galleys, some loading, others unloading. A yellow flag blew out from each mast-head. From fleet and wharf, and from ship to ship, the bondmen of traffic passed in clamorous counter-currents.
Above the bridge, across the river, a wall rose from the water’s edge, over which towered the fanciful cornices and turrets of an imperial palace, covering every foot of the island spoken of in the Hebrew’s description. But, with all its suggestions, Ben-Hur scarcely noticed it. Now, at last, he thought to hear of his people- this certainly, if Simonides had indeed been his father’s slave. But would the man acknowledge the relation? That would be to give up his riches and the sovereignty of trade so royally witnessed on the wharf and river. And what was of still greater consequence to the merchant, it would be to forego his career in the midst of amazing success, and yield himself voluntarily once more a slave. Simple thought of the demand seemed a monstrous audacity. Stripped of diplomatic address, it was to say, You are my slave; give me all you have, and- yourself.
Yet Ben-Hur derived strength for the interview from faith in his rights and the hope uppermost in his heart. If the story to which he was yielding were true, Simonides belonged to him, with all he had. For the wealth, be it said in justice, he cared nothing. When he started to the door determined in mind, it was with a promise to himself- “Let him tell me of mother and Tirzah, and I will give him his freedom without account.”