He paused in surprise at seeing Esther a woman now, and so beautiful; and as he stood looking at her a still voice reminded him of broken vows and duties undone: almost his old self returned.

For an instant he was startled; but recovering, he went to Esther, and said, “Peace to thee, sweet Esther- peace; and thou, Simonides”- he looked to the merchant as he spoke- “the blessing of the Lord be thine, if only because thou hast been a good father to the fatherless.”

Esther heard him with downcast face; Simonides answered- “I repeat the welcome of the good Balthasar, son of Hur- welcome to thy father’s house; and sit, and tell us of thy travels, and of thy work, and of the wonderful Nazarene- who he is, and what. If thou art not at ease here, who shall be? Sit, I pray- there, between us, that we may all hear.”

Esther stepped out quickly and brought a covered stool, and set it for him.

“Thanks,” he said to her, gratefully.

When seated, after some other conversation he addressed himself to the men.

“I have come to tell you of the Nazarene.”

The two became instantly attentive.

“For many days now I have followed him with such watchfulness as one may give another upon whom he is waiting so anxiously. I have seen him under all circumstances said to be trials and tests of men; and while I am certain he is a man as I am, not less certain am I that he is something more.”

“What more?” asked Simonides.

“I will tell you- ”

Some one coming into the room interrupted him; he turned, and arose with extended hands.

“Amrah! Dear old Amrah!” he cried.

She came forward; and they, seeing the joy in her face, thought not once how wrinkled and tawny it was. She knelt at his feet, clasped his knees, and kissed his hands over and over; and when he could he put the lank grey hair from her cheeks, and kissed them, saying, “Good Amrah, have you nothing, nothing of them- not a word- not one little sign?”

Then she broke into sobbing which made him answer plainer ever than the spoken word.

“God’s will has been done,” he next said, solemnly, in a tone to make each listener know he had no hope more of finding his people. In his eyes there were tears which he would not have them see, because he was a man.

When he could again, he took seat, and said, “Come, sit by me, Amrah- here. No? then at my feet; for I have much to say to these good friends of a wonderful man come into the world.”

But she went off, and stooping with her back to the wall, joined her hands before her knees, content, they all thought, with seeing him. Then Ben-Hur, bowing to the old men, began again- “I fear to answer the question asked me about the Nazarene without first telling you some of the things I have seen him do; and to that I am the more inclined, my friends, because to-morrow he will come to the city, and go up into the Temple, which he calls his father’s house, where, it is further said, he will proclaim himself. So, whether you are right, O Balthasar, or you, Simonides, we and Israel shall know to-morrow.”