“Bid the men make haste,” said the high-priest to the centurion. “These”- and he pointed to the Nazarene- “must be dead by the going-down of the sun, and buried, that the land may not be defiled. Such is the Law.”
With a better mind, a soldier went to the Nazarene and offered him something to drink, but he refused the cup. Then another went to him and took from his neck the board with the inscription upon it, which he nailed to the tree of the cross- and the preparation was complete.
“The crosses are ready,” said the centurion to the pontiff, who received the report with a wave of the hand and the reply- “Let the blasphemer go first. The Son of God should be able to save himself. We will see.”
The people to whom the preparation in its several stages was visible, and who to this time had assailed the hill with incessant cries of impatience, permitted a lull which directly became a universal hush. The part of the infliction most shocking, at least to the thought, was reached- the men were to be nailed to their crosses. When for that purpose the soldiers laid their hands upon the Nazarene first, a shudder passed through the great concourse; the most brutalized shrank with dread. Afterwards there were those who said the air suddenly chilled and made them shiver.
“How very still it is!” Esther said, as she put her arm about her father’s neck.
And remembering the torture he himself had suffered, he drew her face down upon his breast, and sat trembling.
“Avoid it, Esther, avoid it!” he said, “I know not but all who stand and see it- the innocent as well as the guilty- may be cursed from this hour.”
Balthasar sank upon his knees.
“Son of Hur,” said Simonides, with increasing excitement- “son of Hur, if Jehovah stretch not forth his hand, and quickly, Israel is lost- and we are lost.”
Ben-Hur answered, calmly, “I have been in a dream, Simonides, and heard in it why all this should be, and why it should go on. It is the will of the Nazarene- it is God’s will. Let us do as the Egyptian here- let us hold our peace and pray.”
As he looked up on the knoll again, the words were wafted to him through the awful stillness-
“I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE.”
He bowed reverently as to a person speaking.
Up on the summit meantime the work went on. The guard took the Nazarene’s clothes from him; so that he stood before the millions naked. The stripes of the scourging he had received in the early morning were still bloody upon his back; yet he was laid pitilessly down, and stretched upon the cross- first, the arms upon the transverse beam; the spikes were sharp- a few blows, and they were driven through the tender palms; next, they drew his knees up until the soles of the feet rested flat upon the tree; then they placed one foot upon the other, and one spike fixed both of them fast. The dulled sound of the hammering was heard outside the guarded space; and such as could not hear, yet saw the hammer as it fell, shivered with fear. And withal not a groan, or cry, or word of remonstrance from the sufferer: nothing at which an enemy could laugh; nothing a lover could regret.