The Jewess looked up. Upon each cheek there was a glow; her eyes sparkled with a light more nearly of anger than ever her nature emitted before. Her gentleness had been too roughly overridden. It was not enough for her to be forbidden more than fugitive dreams of the man she loved; a boastful rival must tell her in confidence of her better success, and of the brilliant promises which were its rewards. Of her, the servant of a servant, there had been no hint of remembrance; this other could show his letter, leaving her to imagine all it breathed. So she said- “Dost thou love him so much then, or Rome so much better?”
The Egyptian drew back a step; then she bent her haughty head quite near her questioner.
“What is he to thee, daughter of Simonides?”
Esther, all thrilling, began, “He is my- ”
A thought blasting as lightning stayed the words: she paled, trembled, recovered, and answered- “He is my father’s friend.”
Her tongue had refused to admit her servile condition.
Iras laughed more lightly than before.
“Not more than that?” she said. “Ah, by the lover-gods of Egypt, thou mayst keep thy kisses- keep them. Thou hast taught me but now that there are others vastly more estimable waiting me here in Judea; and”- she turned away, looking back over her shoulder- “I will go get them. Peace to thee.”
Esther saw her disappear down the steps, when, putting her hands over her face, she burst into tears so they ran scalding through her fingers- tears of shame and choking passion. And, to deepen the paroxysm to her even temper so strange, up with a new meaning of withering force rose her father’s words- “Thy love might not have been vainly given had I kept fast hold of all I had, as I might have done.”
And all the stars were out, burning low above the city and the dark wall of mountains about it, before she recovered enough to go back to the summer-house, and in silence take her accustomed place at her father’s side, humbly waiting his pleasure. To such duty it seemed her youth, if not her life, must be given. And, let the truth be said, now that the pang was spent, she went not unwillingly back to the duty.
BEN-HUR TELLS OF THE NAZARENE.
AN hour or thereabouts after the scene upon the roof, Balthasar and Simonides, the latter attended by Esther, met in the great chamber of the palace; and while they were talking, Ben-Hur and Iras came in together.
The young Jew, advancing in front of his companion, walked first to Balthasar, and saluted him, and received his reply; then he turned to Simonides, but paused at sight of Esther.
It is not often we have hearts roomy enough for more than one of the absorbing passions at the same time; in its blaze the others may continue to live, but only as lesser lights. So with Ben-Hur, much study of possibilities, indulgence of hopes and dreams, influences born of the condition of his country, influences more direct- that of Iras for example- had made him in the broadest worldly sense ambitious; and as he had given the passion place, allowing it to become a rule, and finally an imperious governor, the resolves and impulses of former days faded imperceptibly out of being, and at last almost out of recollection. It is at best so easy to forget our youth; in his case it was but natural that his own sufferings and the mystery darkening the fate of his family should move him less and less as, in hope at least, he approached nearer and nearer the goals which occupied all his visions. Only let us not judge him too harshly.