“Instead of a Sesostris returning in triumph or a Caesar helmed and sworded- ha, ha, ha!- I saw a man with a woman’s face and hair, riding an ass’s colt, and in tears. The King! the son of God! the Redeemer of the world! Ha, ha, ha!”
In spite of himself, Ben-Hur winced.
“I did not quit my place, O prince of Jerusalem,” she said, before he could recover. “I did not laugh. I said to myself, ‘Wait. In the Temple he will glorify himself as becomes a hero about to take possession of the world.’ I saw him enter the Gate of Shushan and the Court of the Women. I saw him stop and stand before the Gate Beautiful. There were people with me on the porch and in the courts, and on the cloisters and on the steps of the three sides of the Temple there were other people- I will say a million of people, all waiting breathlessly to hear his proclamation. The pillars were not more still than we. Ha, ha, ha! I fancied I heard the axles of the mighty Roman machine begin to crack. Ha, ha, ha! O prince, by the soul of Solomon, your King of the World drew his gown about him and walked away, and out by the farthest gate, nor opened his mouth to say a word; and- the Roman machine is running yet!”
In simple homage to a hope that instant lost- a hope which, as it began to fall and while it was falling, he unconsciously followed with a parting look down to its disappearance- Ben-Hur lowered his eyes.
At no previous time, whether when Balthasar was plying him with arguments, or when miracles were being done before his face, had the disputed nature of the Nazarene been so plainly set before him. The best way, after all, to reach an understanding of the divine is by study of the human. In the things superior to men we may always look to find God. So with the picture given by the Egyptian of the scene when the Nazarene turned from the Gate Beautiful; its central theme was an act utterly beyond performance by a man under control of merely human inspirations. A parable to a parable-loving people, it taught what the Christ had so often asserted- that his mission was not political. There was not much more time for thought of all this than that allowed for a common respiration; yet the idea took fast hold of Ben-Hur, and in the same instant he followed his hope of vengeance out of sight, and the man with the woman’s face and hair, and in tears, came near to him- near enough to leave something of his spirit behind.
“Daughter of Balthasar,” he said, with dignity, “if this be the game of which you spoke to me, take the chaplet- I accord it yours. Only let us make an end of words. That you have a purpose I am sure. To it, I pray, and I will answer you; then let us go our several ways, and forget we ever met. Say on; I will listen, but not to more of that which you have given me.”