“I knew the Prince Hur. We were associated in some enterprises lawful to merchants who find profit in lands beyond the sea and the desert. But sit, I pray you- and, Esther, some wine for the young man. Nehemiah speaks of a son of Hur who once ruled the half part of Jerusalem; an old house; very old, by the faith! In the days of Moses and Joshua even some of them found favour in the sight of the Lord, and divided honours with those princes among men. It can hardly be that their descendant, lineally come to us, will refuse a cup of wine-fat of the genuine vine of Sorek, grown on the south hillsides of Hebron.”
By the time of the conclusion of this speech, Esther was before Ben-Hur with a silver cup filled from a vase upon a table a little removed from the chair. She offered the drink with downcast face. He touched her hand gently to put it away. Again their eyes met; whereat he noticed that she was small, not nearly to his shoulder in height; but very graceful, and fair and sweet of face, with eyes black and inexpressibly soft. She is kind and pretty, he thought, and looks as Tirzah would were she living. Poor Tirzah! Then he said aloud, “No, thy father- if he is thy father?” he paused.
“I am Esther, the daughter of Simonides,” she said, with dignity.
“Then, fair Esther, thy father, when he has heard my further speech, will not think worse of me if yet I am slow to take his wine of famous extract; nor less I hope not to lose grace in thy sight. Stand thou here with me a moment!”
Both of them, as in common cause, turned to the merchant. “Simonides!” he said, firmly, “my father, at his death, had a trusted servant of thy name, and it has been told me that thou art the man!”
There was a sudden start of the wrenched limbs under the robe, and the thin hand clenched.
“Esther, Esther!” the man called, sternly; “here, not there, as thou art thy mother’s child and mine- here, not there, I say!”
The girl looked once from father to visitor; then she replaced the cup upon the table, and went dutifully to the chair. Her countenance sufficiently expressed her wonder and alarm.
Simonides lifted his left hand, and gave it into hers, lying lovingly upon his shoulder, and said, dispassionately, “I have grown old in dealing with men- old before my time. If he who told thee that whereof thou speakest was a friend acquainted with my history, and spoke of it not harshly, he must have persuaded thee that I could not be else than a man distrustful of my kind. The God of Israel help him who, at the end of life, is constrained to acknowledge so much! My loves are few, but they are. One of them is a soul which”- he carried the hand holding his to his lips, in manner unmistakable- “a soul which to this time has been unselfishly mine, and such sweet comfort that, were it taken from me, I would die.”