“O master,” Ben-Hur made haste to say, his voice sharp with anxiety, “I am thy friend and lover. Tell me, I pray thee, if I bring rescue, wilt thou accept it?”

The Nazarene never so much as looked up or allowed the slightest sign of recognition; yet the something which when we are suffering is always telling it to such as look at us, though they be strangers, failed not now. “Let him alone,” it seemed to say; “he has been abandoned by his friends; the world has denied him; in bitterness of spirit he has taken farewell of men; he is going he knows not where, and he cares not. Let him alone.”

And to that Ben-Hur was now driven. A dozen hands were upon him, and from all sides there was shouting, “He is one of them. Bring him along; club him- kill him!”

With a gust of passion which gave him many times his ordinary force, Ben-Hur raised himself, turned once about with his arms outstretched, shook the hands off, and rushed through the circle which was fast hemming him in. The hands snatching at him as he passed tore his garments from his back, so he ran off the road naked; and the gorge, in keeping of the friendly darkness, darker there than elsewhere, received him safe.

Reclaiming his handkerchief and outer garments from the orchard wall, he followed back to the city gate; thence he went to the khan, and on the good horse rode to the tents of his people out by the Tombs of the Kings.

As he rode, he promised himself to see the Nazarene on the morrow- promised it, not knowing that the unfriended man was taken straightway to the house of Hannas to be tried that night.

The heart the young man carried to his couch beat so heavily he could not sleep; for now clearly his renewed Judean kingdom resolved itself into what it was- only a dream. It is bad enough to see our castles overthrown one after another with an interval between in which to recover from the shock, or at least let the echoes of the fall die away; but when they go altogether- go as ships sink, as houses tumble in earthquakes- the spirits which endure it calmly are made of stuffs sterner than common, and Ben-Hur’s was not of them. Through vistas in the future he began to catch glimpses of a life serenely beautiful, with a home instead of a palace of state, and Esther its mistress. Again and again through the leaden-footed hours of the night he saw the villa by Misenum, and with his little countrywoman strolled through the garden, and rested in the panelled atrium; overhead the Neapolitan sky, at their feet the sunniest of sun-lands and the bluest of bays.

In plainest speech, he was entering upon a crisis with which to-morrow and the Nazarene will have everything to do.


CHAPTER IX.