As to Simonides and Esther, they had arrived from Antioch, only a few days before this their reappearance- a wearisome journey to the merchant, borne, as he had been, in a palanquin swung between two camels, which, in their careening, did not always keep the same step. But now that he was come, the good man, it seemed, could not see enough of his native land. He delighted in the perch upon the roof, and spent most of his day hours there seated in an arm-chair, the duplicate of that one kept for him in the cabinet over the store-house by the Orontes. In the shade of the summer-house he could drink fully of the inspiring air lying lightly upon the familiar hills; he could better watch the sun rise, run its course, and set as it, used to in the far-gone, not a habit lost; and with Esther by him it was so much easier, up there close to the sky, to bring back the other Esther, his love in youth, his wife, dearer growing with the passage of years. And yet he was not unmindful of business. Every day a messenger brought him a despatch from Sanballat, in charge of the big commerce behind; and every day a despatch left him for Sanballat with directions of such minuteness of detail as to exclude all judgment save his own, and all chances except those the Almighty has refused to submit to the most mindful of men.
As Esther started in return to the summer-house, the sunlight fell softly upon the dustless roof, showing her a woman now- small, graceful in form, of regular features, rosy with youth and health, bright with intelligence, beautiful with the outshining of a devoted nature- a woman to be loved because loving was a habit of life irrepressible with her.
She looked at the package as she turned, paused, looked at it a second time more closely than at first; and the blood rose reddening her cheeks- the seal was Ben-Hur’s. With quickened steps she hastened on.
Simonides held the package a moment while he also inspected the seal. Breaking it open, he gave her the roll it contained.
“Read,” he said.
His eyes were upon her as he spoke, and instantly a troubled expression fell upon his own face.
“You know who it is from, I see, Esther.”
“Yes- from- our master.”
Though the manner was halting, she met his gaze with modest sincerity. Slowly his chin sank into the roll of flesh puffed out under it like a cushion.
“You love him, Esther?” he said, quietly.
“Yes,” she answered.
“Have you thought well of what you do?”
“I have tried not to think of him, father, except as the master to whom I am dutifully bound. The effort has not helped me to strength.”
“A good girl, a good girl, even as thy mother was,” he said, dropping into reverie, from which she roused him by unrolling the paper.