So with Ben-Hur the winter months rolled by, and spring came, with gladdening showers blown over from the summering sea in the west; and by that time so earnestly and successfully had he toiled that he could say to himself and his followers, “Let the good King come. He has only to tell us where he will have his throne set up. We have the sword-hands to keep it for him.”

And in all his dealings with the many men they knew him only as a son of Judah, and by that name.

* * * * *

One evening, over in Trachonitis, Ben-Hur was sitting with some of his Galileans at the mouth of the cave in which he quartered, when an Arab courier rode to him, and delivered a letter. Breaking the package, he read-

“JERUSALEM, Nisan IV.

“A prophet has appeared who men say is Elias. He has been in the wilderness for years, and to our eyes he is a prophet; and such also is his speech, the burden of which is of one much greater than himself, who, he says, is to come presently, and for whom he is now waiting on the eastern shore of the River Jordan. I have been to see and hear him, and the one he is waiting for is certainly the King you are awaiting. Come and Judge for yourself.

“All Jerusalem is going out to the prophet, and with many people else the shore on which he abides is like Mount Olivet in the last days of the Passover.

“MALLUCH.”

Ben-Hur’s face flushed with joy.

“By this word, O my friends,” he said- “by this word, our waiting is at end. The herald of the King has appeared and announced him.”

Upon hearing the letter read, they also rejoiced at the promise it held out.

“Get ready now,” he added, “and in the morning set your faces homeward; when arrived there, send word to those under you, and bid them be ready to assemble as I may direct. For myself and you, I will go see if the King be indeed at hand, and send you report. Let us, in the meantime, live in the pleasure of the promise.”

Going into the cave, he addressed a letter to Ilderim, and another to Simonides, giving notice of the news received, and of his purpose to go up immediately to Jerusalem. The letters he despatched by swift messengers. When night fell, and the stars of direction came out, he mounted, and with an Arab guide set out for the Jordan, intending to strike the track of the caravans between Rabbath-Ammon and Damascus.

The guide was sure, and Aldebaran swift; so by midnight the two were out of the lava fastness speeding southward.


CHAPTER II.

NOONING BY THE POOL- IRAS.

IT was Ben-Hur’s purpose to turn aside at the break of day, and find a safe place in which to rest; but the dawn overtook him while out in the desert, and he kept on, the guide promising to bring him afterwhile to a vale shut in by great rocks, where there were a spring, some mulberry-trees, and herbage in plenty for the horses.