He passed boldly into the house.
The interior was that of a vast depot where, in ordered spaces, and under careful arrangement, goods of every kind were heaped and pent. Though the light was murky and the air stifling, men moved about briskly; and in places he saw workmen with saws and hammers making packages for shipments. Down a path between the piles he walked slowly, wondering if the man of whose genius there were here such abounding proofs could have been his father’s slave? If so, to what class had he belonged? If a Jew, was he the son of a servant? Or was he a debtor or a debtor’s son? Or had he been sentenced and sold for theft? These thoughts, as they passed, in nowise disturbed the growing respect for the merchant of which he was each instant more and more conscious. A peculiarity of our admiration for another is that it is always looking for circumstances to justify itself.
At length a man approached and spoke to him.
“What would you have?”
“I would see Simonides, the merchant.”
“Will you come this way?”
By a number of paths left in the stowage, they finally came to a flight of steps; ascending which, he found himself on the roof of the depot, and in front of a structure which cannot be better described than as a lesser stone house built upon another, invisible from the landing below, and out west of the bridge under the open sky. The roof, hemmed in by a low wall, seemed like a terrace, which, to his astonishment, was brilliant with flowers; in the rich surrounding, the house sat squat- a plain square block, unbroken except by a doorway in front. A dustless path led to the door, through a bordering of shrubs of Persian rose in perfect bloom. Breathing a sweet attar-perfume, he followed the guide.
At the end of a darkened passage within, they stopped before a curtain half parted. The man called out, “A stranger to see the master.”
A clear voice replied, “In God’s name, let him enter.”
A Roman might have called the apartment into which the visitor was ushered his atrium. The walls were panelled; each panel was comparted like a modern office-desk, and each compartment crowded with labelled folios all filemot with age and use. Between the panels, and above and below them, were borders of wood once white, now tinted like cream, and carved with marvellous intricacy of design. Above a cornice of gilded balls, the ceiling rose in pavilion style until it broke into a shallow dome set with hundreds of panes of violet mica, permitting a flood of light deliciously reposeful. The floor was carpeted with grey rugs so thick that an invading foot fell half buried and soundless.
In the midlight of the room were two persons- a man resting in a chair high-backed, broad-armed, and lined with pliant cushions; and at his left, leaning against the back of the chair, a girl well forward into womanhood. At sight of them Ben-Hur felt the blood redden his forehead; bowing, as much to recover himself as in respect, he lost the lifting of the hands, and the shiver and shrink with which the sitter caught sight of him- an emotion as swift to go as it had been to come. When he raised his eyes the two were in the same position, except the girl’s hand had fallen and was resting lightly upon the elder’s shoulder; both of them were regarding him fixedly.