Ben-Hur Table of Contents of the On-Line Edition. Cf. Ben-Hur in Print, at Amazon

BOOK SIXTH.

“Is that a Death? and are there two?

Is Death that woman’s mate?

Her skin was as white as leprosy,

The Nightmare Life-in-Death was she,

Who thicks man’s blood with cold.”

-COLERIDGE.


CHAPTER I.

THE TOWER OF ANTONIA- CELL No. VI.

OUR story moves forward now thirty days from the night Ben-Hur left Antioch to go out with Sheik Ilderim into the desert.

A great change has befallen- great at least as respects the fortunes of our hero. Valerius Gratus has been succeeded by Pontius Pilate! The removal, it may be remarked, cost Simonides exactly five talents Roman money in hand paid to Sejanus, who was then in height of power as imperial favourite; the object being to help Ben-Hur, by lessening his exposure while in and about Jerusalem attempting discovery of his people. To such pious use the faithful servant put the winnings from Drusus and his associates; all of whom, having paid their wagers, became at once and naturally the enemies of Messala, whose repudiation was yet an unsettled question in Rome.

Brief as the time was, already the Jews knew the change of rulers was not for the better.

The cohorts sent to relieve the garrison of Antonia made their entry into the city by night; next morning the first sight that greeted the people resident in the neighbourhood was the walls of the old Tower decorated with military ensigns, which unfortunately consisted of busts of the emperor mixed with eagles and globes. A multitude, in passion, marched to Caesarea, where Pilate was lingering, and implored him to remove the detested images. Five days and nights they beset his palace gates; at last he appointed a meeting with them in the Circus. When they were assembled, he encircled them with soldiers; instead of resisting, they offered him their lives, and conquered. He recalled the images and ensigns to Caesarea, where Gratus, with more consideration, had kept such abominations housed during the eleven years of his reign.

The worst of men do once in a while vary their wickednesses by good acts; so with Pilate. He ordered an inspection of all the prisons in Judea, and a return of the names of the persons in custody, with a statement of the crimes for which they had been committed. Doubtless, the motive was the one so common with officials just installed- dread of entailed responsibility; the people, however, in thought of the good which might come of the measure, gave him credit, and, for a period, were comforted. The revelations were astonishing. Hundreds of persons were released against whom there were no accusations; many others came to light who had long been accounted dead; yet more amazing, there was opening of dungeons not merely unknown at the time by the people, but actually forgotten by the prison authorities. With one instance of the latter kind we have now to deal; and, strange to say, it occurred in Jerusalem.

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