The Galileans cheered, and, laughing, went on.
Outside the gate there was a multitude the like of which Ben-Hur had never seen, not even in the circus at Antioch. The house-tops, the streets, the slope of the hill, appeared densely covered with people wailing and praying. The air was filled with their cries and imprecations.
The party were permitted to pass without challenge by the outer guard. But hardly were they out before the centurion in charge at the portico appeared, and in the gateway called to Ben-Hur- “Ho, insolent! Art thou a Roman or a Jew?”
Ben-Hur answered, “I am a son of Judah, born here. What wouldst thou with me?”
“Stay and fight.”
“As thou wilt!”
Ben-Hur laughed derisively.
“O brave Roman! Worthy son of the bastard Roman Jove! I have no arms.”
“Thou shalt have mine,” the centurion answered. “I will borrow of the guard here.”
The people in hearing of the colloquy became silent; and from them the hush spread afar. But lately Ben-Hur had beaten a Roman under the eyes of Antioch and the Farther East; now, could he beat another one under the eyes of Jerusalem, the honour might be vastly profitable to the cause of the New King. He did not hesitate. Going frankly to the centurion, he said, “I am. willing. Lend me thy sword and shield.”
“And the helm and breastplate?” asked the Roman.
“Keep them. They might not fit me.”
The arms were as frankly delivered, and directly the centurion was ready. All this time the soldiers in rank close by the gate never moved; they simply listened. As to the multitude, only when the combatants advanced to begin the fight the question sped from mouth to mouth, “Who is he?” And no one knew.
Now the Roman supremacy in arms lay in three things- submission to discipline, the legionary formation of battle, and a peculiar use of the short sword. In combat, they never struck, or cut; from first to last they thrust- they advanced thrusting, they retired thrusting; and generally their aim was at the foeman’s face. All this was well known to Ben-Hur. As they were about to engage he said- “I told thee I was a son of Judah; but I did not tell that I am lanista-taught. Defend thyself!”
At the last word Ben-Hur closed with his antagonist. A moment, standing foot to foot, they glared at each other over the rims of their embossed shields; then the Roman pushed forward and feinted an under-thrust. The Jew laughed at him. A thrust at the face followed. The Jew stepped lightly to the left; quick as the thrust was, the step was quicker. Under the lifted arm of the foe he slid his shield, advancing it until the sword and sword-arm were both caught on its upper surface; another step, this time forward and left, and the man’s whole right side was offered to the point. The centurion fell heavily on his breast, clanging the pavement, and Ben-Hur had won. With his foot upon his enemy’s back, he raised his shield overhead after a gladiatorial custom, and saluted the imperturbable soldiers by the gate.