The picture was fervently given.
Upon Ilderim it operated like the blowing of a trumpet. “Oh that I had back my youth!” he cried, starting to his feet.
Ben-Hur sat still. The speech, he saw, was an invitation to devote his life and fortune to the mysterious Being who was palpably as much the centre of a great hope with Simonides as with the devout Egyptian. The idea, as we have seen, was not a new one, but had come to him repeatedly- once while listening to Malluch in the Grove of Daphne; afterwards more distinctly while Balthasar was giving his conception of what the kingdom was to be; still later, in the walk through the old Orchard, it had risen almost, if not quite, into a resolve. At such times it had come and gone only an idea, attended with feelings more or less acute. Not so now. A master had it in charge, a master was working it up; already he had exalted it into a cause brilliant with possibilities and infinitely holy. The effect was as if a door theretofore unseen had suddenly opened flooding Ben-Hur with light, and admitting him to a service which had been his one perfect dream- a service reaching far into the future, and rich with the rewards of duty done, and prizes to sweeten and soothe his ambition. One touch more was needed.
“Let us concede all you say, O Simonides,” said Ben-Hur- “that the King will come, and his kingdom be as Solomon’s; say also I am ready to give myself and all I have to him and his cause; yet more, say that I should do as was God’s purpose in the ordering of my life and in your quick amassment of astonishing fortune; then what? Shall we proceed like blind men building? Shall we wait till the King comes? Or until he sends for me? You have age and experience on your side. Answer.”
Simonides answered at once.
“We have no choice; none. This letter”- he produced Messala’s despatch as he spoke- “this letter is the signal for action. The alliance proposed between Messala and Gratus we are not strong enough to resist; we have not the influence at Rome nor the force here. They will kill you if we wait. How merciful they are, look at me and judge.”
He shuddered at the terrible recollection.
“O good my master,” he continued, recovering himself; “how-strong are you- in purpose, I mean?”
Ben-Hur did not understand him.
“I remember how pleasant the world was to me in my youth,” Simonides proceeded.
“Yet,” said Ben-Hur, “you were capable of a great sacrifice.”
“Yes; for love.”
“Has not life other motives as strong?”
Simonides shook his head.
“There is ambition.”
“Ambition is forbidden a son of Israel.”
“What, then, of revenge?”
The spark dropped upon the inflammable passion; the man’s eyes gleamed; his hands shook; he answered, quickly, “Revenge is a Jew’s of right; it is the law.”