CHAPTER VI.

A TRICK OF PILATE’S- THE COMBAT.

THE morning of the first day of the seventh month- Tishri in the Hebrew, October in English- Ben-Hur arose from his couch in the khan ill-satisfied with the whole world.

Little time had been lost in consultation upon the arrival of Malluch. The latter began the search at the Tower of Antonia, and began it boldly, by a direct inquiry of the tribune commanding. He gave the officer a history of the Hurs, and all the particulars of the accident to Gratus, describing the affair as wholly without criminality. The object of the quest now, he said, was if any of the unhappy family were discovered alive to carry a petition to the feet of Caesar, praying restitution of the estate and return to their civil rights. Such a petition, he had no doubt, would result in an investigation by the imperial order, a proceeding of which the friends of the family had no fear.

In reply the tribune stated circumstantially the discovery of the women in the Tower, and permitted a reading of the memorandum he had taken of their account of themselves; when leave to copy it was prayed, he even permitted that.

Malluch thereupon hurried to Ben-Hur.

It were useless to attempt description of the effect the terrible story had upon the young man. The pain was not relieved by tears or passionate outcries! it was too deep for any expression. He sat still a long time, with pallid face and labouring heart. Now and then, as if to show the thoughts which were most poignant, he muttered- “Lepers, lepers! They- my mother and Tirzah- they lepers! How long, how long, O Lord!”

One moment he was torn by a virtuous rage of sorrow, next by a longing for vengeance, which, it must be admitted, was scarcely less virtuous.

At length he arose.

“I must look for them. They may be dying.”

“Where will you look?” asked Malluch.

“There is but one place for them to go.”

Malluch interposed, and finally prevailed so far as to have the management of the further attempt intrusted to him. Together they went to the gate over on the side opposite the Hill of Evil Counsel, immemorially the lepers’ begging-ground. There they stayed all day, giving alms, asking for the two women, and offering rich rewards for their discovery. So they did in repetition day after day through the remainder of the fifth month, and all the sixth. There was diligent scouring of the dread city on the hill by lepers to whom the rewards offered were mighty incentives, for they were only dead in law. Over and over again the gaping tomb down by the well was invaded, and its tenants subjected to inquiry; but they kept their secret fast. The result was failure. And now, the morning of the first day of the seventh month, the extent of the additional information gained was that not long before two leprous women had been stoned from the Fish Gate by the authorities. A little pressing of the clue, together with some shrewd comparison of dates, led to the sad assurance that the sufferers were the Hurs, and left the old questions darker than ever. Where were they? And what had become of them? “It was not enough that my people should be made lepers,” said the son, over and over again, with what intensity of bitterness the reader may imagine; “that was not enough. Oh no! They must be stoned from their native city! My mother is dead! she has wandered to the wilderness! she is dead! Tirzah is dead! I alone am left. And for what? How long, O God, thou Lord God of my fathers, how long shall this Rome endure?”