He conducted her to the door, and, with ceremonious politeness, held back the curtain while she passed out.

“Peace to you,” he said, as she disappeared.


CHAPTER VII.

BEN-HUR RETURNS TO ESTHER.

WHEN Ben-Hur left the guest-chamber, there was not nearly so much life in his action as when he entered it; his steps were slower, and he went along with his head quite upon his breast. Having made discovery that a man with a broken back may yet have a sound brain, he was reflecting upon the discovery.

Forasmuch as it is easy after a calamity has befallen to look back and see the proofs of its coming strewn along the way, the thought that he had not even suspected the Egyptian as in Messala’s interest, but had gone blindly on through whole years putting himself and his friends more and more at her mercy, was a sore wound to the young man’s vanity. “I remember,” he said to himself, “she had no word of indignation for the perfidious Roman at the Fountain of Castalia! I remember she extolled him at the boat-ride on the lake in the Orchard of Palms! And, ah!”- he stopped, and beat his left hand violently with his right- “ah! that mystery about the appointment she made with me at the Palace of Idernee is no mystery now!”

The wound, it should be observed, was to his vanity; and fortunately it is not often that people die of such hurts, or even continue a long time sick. In Ben-Hur’s case, moreover, there was a compensation; for presently he exclaimed aloud, “Praised be the Lord God that the woman took not a more lasting hold of me! I see I did not love her.”

Then, as if he had already parted with not a little of the weight on his mind, he stepped forward more lightly; and, coming to the place on the terrace where one stairway led down to the court-yard below, and another ascended to the roof, he took the latter and began to climb. As he made the last step in the flight he stopped again.

“Can Balthasar have been her partner in the long mask she has been playing? No, no. Hypocrisy seldom goes with wrinkled age like that. Balthasar is a good man.”

With this decided opinion he stepped upon the roof. There was a full moon overhead, yet the vault of the sky at the moment was lurid with light cast up from the fires burning in the streets and open places of the city, and the chanting and chorusing of the old psalmody of Israel filled it with plaintive harmonies to which he could not but listen. The countless voices bearing the burden seemed to say, “Thus, O Son of Judah, we prove our worshipfulness of the Lord God, and our loyalty to the land he gave us. Let a Gideon appear, or a David, or a Maccabaeus, and we are ready.”