“If you are Simonides, the merchant, and a Jew”- Ben-Hur stopped an instant- “then the peace of the God of our father Abraham upon you and- yours.”
The last word was addressed to the girl.
“I am the Simonides of whom you speak, by birthright a Jew,” the man made answer, in a voice singularly clear. “I am Simonides, and a Jew; and I return you your salutation, with prayer to know who calls upon me.”
Ben-Hur looked as he listened, and where the figure of the man should have been in healthful roundness, there was only a formless heap sunk in the depths of the cushions, and covered by a quilted robe of sombre silk. Over the heap shone a head royally proportioned- the ideal head of a statesman and conqueror- a head broad of base and dome-like in front, such as Angelo would have modelled for Caesar. White hair dropped in thin locks over the white brows, deepening the blackness of the eyes shining through them like sullen lights. The face was bloodless, and much puffed with folds, especially under the chin. In other words, the head and face were those of a man who might move the world more readily than the world could move him- a man to be twice twelve times tortured into the shapeless cripple he was, without a groan, much less a confession; a man to yield his life, but never a purpose or a point; a man born in armour, and assailable only through his loves. To him Ben-Hur stretched his hands, open and palm up, as he would offer peace at the same time he asked it.
“I am Judah, son of Ithamar, late head of the House of Hur, and a prince of Jerusalem.”
The merchant’s right hand lay outside the robe- a long, thin hand, articulate to deformity with suffering. It closed tightly; otherwise there was not the slightest expression of feeling of any kind on his part; nothing to warrant an inference of surprise or interest; nothing but this calm answer- “The princes of Jerusalem, of the pure blood, are always welcome in my house; you are welcome. Give the young man a seat, Esther.”
The girl took an ottoman near by, and carried it to Ben-Hur. As she arose from placing the seat, their eyes met.
“The peace of our Lord with you,” she said, modestly. “Be seated and at rest.”
When she resumed her place by the chair, she had not divined his purpose. The powers of woman go not so far: if the matter is of finer feeling, such as pity, mercy, sympathy, that she detects; and therein is a difference between her and man which will endure as long as she remains, by nature, alive to such feelings. She was simply sure he brought some wound of life for healing.
Ben-Hur did not take the offered seat, but said, deferentially, “I pray the good master Simonides that he will not hold me an intruder. Coming up the river yesterday, I heard he knew my father.”