The idea irritated Ben-Hur.
There were many doors on the right and left of the atrium, leading, doubtless, to sleeping-chambers; he tried them, but they were all firmly fastened. Knocking might bring response. Ashamed to make outcry, he betook himself to a couch, and, lying down, tried to reflect.
All too plainly he was a prisoner; but for what purpose? and by whom? If the work were Messala’s! He sat up, looked about, and smiled defiantly. There were weapons in every table. But birds had been starved in golden cages; not so would he- the couches would serve him as battering-rams; and he was strong, and there was such increase of might in rage and despair! Messala himself could not come. He would never walk again; he was a cripple like Simonides; still he could move others. And where were there not others to be moved by him? Ben-Hur arose, and tried the doors again. Once be called out; the room echoed so that he was startled. With such calmness as he could assume, he made up his mind to wait a time before attempting to break a way out.
In such a situation the mind has its ebb and flow of disquiet, with intervals of peace between. At length- how long, though, he could not have said- he came to the conclusion that the affair was an accident or mistake. The palace certainly belonged to somebody; it must have care and keeping; and the keeper would come; the evening or the night would bring him. Patience! I So concluding, he waited.
Half an hour passed- a much longer period to Ben-Hur- when the door which had admitted him opened and closed noiselessly as before, and without attracting his attention.
The moment of the occurrence he was sitting at the farther end of the room. A footstep startled him.
“At last she has come!” he thought, with a throb of relief and pleasure, and arose.
The step was heavy, and accompanied with the gride and clang of coarse sandals. The gilded pillars were between him and the door; he advanced quietly, and leaned against one of them. Presently he heard voices- the voices of men- one of them rough and guttural. What was said he could not understand, as the language was not of the East or South of Europe.
After a general survey of the room, the strangers crossed to their left, and were brought into Ben-Hur’s view- two men, one very stout, both tall, and both in short tunics. They had not the air of masters of the house or domestics. Everything they saw appeared wonderful to them; everything they stopped to examine they touched. They were vulgarians. The atrium seemed profaned by their presence. At the same time, their leisurely manner and the assurance with which they proceeded pointed to some right or business; if business, with whom? With much jargon they sauntered this way and that, all the time gradually approaching the pillar by which Ben-Hur was standing. Off a little way, where a slanted gleam of the sun fell with a glare upon the mosaic of the floor, there was a statue which attracted their notice. In examining it, they stopped in the light.