And leaving Simonides lost in wonder at such a speech from him, he went where Balthasar was kneeling near by, and laid his hand upon the good man’s shoulder.

“O wise Egyptian, hearken! Thou alone wert right- the Nazarene is indeed the Son of God.”

Balthasar drew him down to him, and replied, feebly “I saw him a child in the manger where he was first laid; it is not strange that I knew him sooner than thou; but oh that I should live to see this day! Would I had died with my brethren! Happy Melchior! Happy, happy Gaspar!”

“Comfort thee!” said Ben-Hur. “Doubtless they too are here.”

The dimness went on deepening into obscurity, and that into positive darkness, but without deterring the bolder spirits upon the knoll. One after the other the thieves were raised on their crosses, and the crosses planted. The guard was then withdrawn, and the people set free closed in upon the height, and surged up it, like a converging wave. A man might take a look, when a new-comer would push him on, and take his place, to be in turn pushed on- and there were laughter and ribaldry and revilements, all for the Nazarene.

“Ha, ha! If thou be King of the Jews, save thyself,” a soldier shouted.

“Ay,” said a priest, “if he will come down to us now, we will believe in him.”

Others wagged their heads wisely saying, “He would destroy the Temple, and rebuild it in three days, but cannot save himself.”

Others still- “He called himself the Son of God; let us see if God will have him.”

What all there is in prejudice no one has ever said. The Nazarene had never harmed the people; far the greater part of them had never seen him except in this his hour of calamity; yet- singular contrariety!- they loaded him with their curses, and gave their sympathy to the thieves.

The supernatural night, dropped thus from the heavens, affected Esther as it began to affect thousands of others braver and stronger.

“Let us go home,” she prayed- twice, three times- saying, “it is the frown of God, father. What other dreadful things may happen, who can tell? I am afraid.”

Simonides was obstinate. He said little, but was plainly under great excitement. Observing, about the end of the first hour, that the violence of the crowding up on the knoll was somewhat abated, at his suggestion the party advanced to take position nearer the crosses. Ben-Hur gave his arm to Balthasar; yet the Egyptian made the ascent with difficulty. From their new stand the Nazarene was imperfectly visible, appearing to them not more than a dark suspended figure. They could hear him, however- hear his sighing, which showed an endurance or exhaustion greater than that of his fellow-sufferers; for they filled every lull in the noises with their groans and entreaties.

The second hour after the suspension passed like the first one. To the Nazarene they were hours of insult, provocation, and slow dying. He spoke but once in the time. Some women came and knelt at the foot of his cross. Among them he recognized his mother with the beloved disciple.