“And, waking, I beheld her there
THOMAS BAILEY ALDRICH.
THE MEETING took place in the khan of Bethany as appointed. Thence Ben-Hur went with the Galileans into their country, where his exploits up in the old Market-place gave him fame and influence. Before the winter was gone he raised three legions, and organized them after the Roman pattern. He could have had as many more, for the martial spirit of that gallant people never slept. The proceeding, however, required careful guarding as against both Rome and Herod Antipas. Contenting himself for the present with the three, he strove to train and educate them for systematic action. For that purpose he carried the officers over into the lava-beds of Trachonitis, and taught them the use of arms, particularly the javelin and sword, and the manœuvering peculiar to the legionary formation; after which he sent them home as teachers. And soon the training became a pastime of the people.
As may be thought, the task called for patience, skill, zeal, faith, and devotion on his part—qualities into which the power of inspiring others in matters of difficulty is always resolvable; and never man possessed them in greater degree or used them to better effect. How he labored! And with utter denial of self! Yet withal he would have failed but for the support he had from Simonides, who furnished him arms and money, and from Ilderim, who kept watch and brought him supplies. And still he would have failed but for the genius of the Galileans.
Under that name were comprehended the four tribes—Asher, Zebulon, Issachar, and Naphthali—and the districts originally set apart to them. The Jew born in sight of the Temple despised these brethren of the north; but the Talmud itself has said, “The Galilean loves honor, and the Jew money.”
Hating Rome fervidly as they loved their own country, in every revolt they were first in the field and last to leave it. One hundred and fifty thousand Galilean youths perished in the final war with Rome. For the great festal days, they went up to Jerusalem marching and camping like armies; yet they were liberal in sentiment, and even tolerant to heathenism. In Herod’s beautiful cities, which were Roman in all things, in Sepphoris and Tiberias especially, they took pride, and in the building them gave loyal support. They had for fellow-citizens men from the outside world everywhere, and lived in peace with them. To the glory of the Hebrew name they contributed poets like the singer of the Song of Songs and prophets like Hosea.
Upon such a people, so quick, so proud, so brave, so devoted, so imaginative, a tale like that of the coming of the King was all-powerful. That he was coming to put Rome down would have been sufficient to enlist them in the scheme proposed by Ben-Hur; but when, besides, they were assured he was to rule the world, more mighty than Cæsar, more magnificent than Solomon, and that the rule was to last forever, the appeal was irresistible, and they vowed themselves to the cause body and soul. They asked Ben-Hur his authority for the sayings, and he quoted the prophets, and told them of Balthasar in waiting over in Antioch; and they were satisfied, for it was the old much-loved legend of the Messiah, familiar to them almost as the name of the Lord; the long-cherished dream with a time fixed for its realization. The King was not merely coming now; he was at hand.
So with Ben-Hur the winter months rolled by, and spring came, with gladdening showers blown over from the summering sea in the west; and by that time so earnestly and successfully had he toiled that he could say to himself and his followers, “Let the good King come. He has only to tell us where he will have his throne set up. We have the sword-hands to keep it for him.”
And in all his dealings with the many men they knew him only as a son of Judah, and by that name.
One evening, over in Trachonitis, Ben-Hur was sitting with some of his Galileans at the mouth of the cave in which he quartered, when an Arab courier rode to him, and delivered a letter. Breaking the package, he read,
“JERUSALEM, Nisan IV.
“A prophet has appeared who men say is Elias. He has been in the wilderness for years, and to our eyes he is a prophet; and such also is his speech, the burden of which is of one much greater than himself, who, he says, is to come presently, and for whom he is now waiting on the eastern shore of the River Jordan. I have been to see and hear him, and the one he is waiting for is certainly the King you are awaiting. Come and judge for yourself.
“All Jerusalem is going out to the prophet, and with many people else the shore on which he abides is like Mount Olivet in the last days of the Passover.
Ben-Hur’s face flushed with joy.
“By this word, O my friends,” he said—“by this word, our waiting is at end. The herald of the King has appeared and announced him.”
Upon hearing the letter read, they also rejoiced at the promise it held out.
“Get ready now,” he added, “and in the morning set your faces homeward; when arrived there, send word to those under you, and bid them be ready to assemble as I may direct. For myself and you, I will go see if the King be indeed at hand, and send you report. Let us, in the meantime, live in the pleasure of the promise.”
Going into the cave, he addressed a letter to Ilderim, and another to Simonides, giving notice of the news received, and of his purpose to go up immediately to Jerusalem. The letters he despatched by swift messengers. When night fell, and the stars of direction came out, he mounted, and with an Arab guide set out for the Jordan, intending to strike the track of the caravans between Rabbath-Ammon and Damascus.
The guide was sure, and Aldebaran swift; so by midnight the two were out of the lava fastness speeding southward.