The passenger is the agent going to dispose of the estate derived from Arrius the duumvir. When the lines of the vessel are cast off, and she is put about, and her voyage begun, Ben-Hur will be committed irrevocably to the work undertaken the night before. If he is disposed to repent the agreement with Ilderim, a little time is allowed him to give notice and break it off. He is master, and has only to say the word.
Such may have been the thought at the moment in his mind. He was standing with folded arms, looking upon the scene in the manner of a man debating with himself. Young, handsome, rich, but recently from the patrician circles of Roman society, it is easy to think of the world besetting him with appeals not to give more to onerous duty or ambition attended with outlawry and danger. We can even imagine the arguments with which he was pressed; the hopelessness of contention with Caesar; the uncertainty veiling everything connected with the King and his coming; the ease, honours, state, purchaseable like goods in market; and strongest of all, the sense newly acquired of home, with friends to make it delightful. Only those who have been wanderers long desolate can know the power there was in the latter appeal.
Let us add, now, the world- always cunning enough of itself; always whispering to the weak, Stay, take thine ease; always presenting the sunny side of life- the world was in this instance helped by Ben-Hur’s companion.
“Were you ever at Rome?” he asked.
“No,” Esther replied.
“Would you like to go?”
“I think not.”
“I am afraid of Rome,” she answered, with a perceptible tremor of the voice.
He looked at her then- or rather down upon her, for at his side she appeared little more than a child. In the dim light he could not see her face distinctly; even the form was shadowy. But again he was reminded of Tirzah, and a sudden tenderness fell upon him- just so the lost sister stood with him on the house-top the calamitous morning of the accident to Gratus. Poor Tirzah! Where was she now? Esther had the benefit of the feeling evoked. If not his sister, he could never look upon her as his servant; and that she was his servant in fact would make him always the more considerate and gentle towards her.
“I cannot think of Rome,” she continued, recovering her voice, and speaking in her quiet, womanly way- “I cannot think of Rome as a city of palaces and temples, and crowded with people; she is to me a monster which has possession of one of the beautiful lands, and lies there luring men to ruin and death- a monster which it is not possible to resist- a ravenous beast gorging with blood. Why- ”
She faltered, looked down, stopped.
“Go on,” said Ben-Hur, reassuringly.