« ПредишнаНапред »
saw the soul of the man as through a glass, darkly cruel, cunning, desperate; not so excited as determined—a soul in a tension of watchfulness and fierce resolve.
2. In a time not longer than was required to turn to his four again, Ben-Hur felt his own resolution harden to a like temper. At whatever costs, at all hazards, he would humble this enemy! Prize, friends, wagers, honor-everything that can be thought of as a possible interest in the race was lost in the one deliberate purpose. Regard for life, even, should not hold him back. Yet there was no passion on his part; no blinding rush of heated blood from heart to brain, and back again; no impulse to fling himself upon Fortune: he did not believe in Fortune-far otherwise. He had his plan, and confiding in himself, he settled to the task, never more observant, never more capable.
3. When not half-way across the arena, he saw that Messala's rush would, if there was no collision, and the rope fell, give him the wall; that the rope would fall he ceased as soon to doubt; and further, it came to him, a sudden flash-like insight, that Messala knew it was to be let drop at the last moment (prearrangement with the editor could safely reach that point in the contest); and it suggested, what more Roman-like than for the official to lend himself to a countryman who, besides being so popular, had also so much at stake? There could be no other accounting for the confidence with which Messala pushed his four forward the instant his competitors were prudentially checking their fours in front of the obstruction-no other except madness.
4. It is one thing to see a necessity, and another to act upon it. Ben-Hur yielded the wall for the time.
The rope fell, and all the four but his sprang into the course under urgency of voice and lash. He drew head to
the right, and with all the speed of his Arabs darted across the trails of his opponents, the angle of movement being such as to lose the least time and gain the greatest possible advance. So, while the spectators were shivering at the Athenian's mishap, and the Sidonian, Byzantine, and Corinthian were striving, with such skill as they possessed, to avoid involvement in the ruin, Ben-Hur swept around and took the course neck and neck with Messala, though on the outside. The marvelous skill shown in making the change thus from the extreme left across to the right without appreciable loss did not fail the sharp eyes upon the benches; the circus seemed to rock and rock again with prolonged applause. Then Esther clasped her hands in glad surprise; then Sanballat, smiling, offered his hundred sestertii a second time without a taker; and then the Romans began to doubt, thinking Messala might have found an equal, if not a master, and that in an Israelite!
5. And now, racing together side by side, a narrow interval between them, the two neared the second goal.
The pedestal of the three pillars there, viewed from the west, was a stone wall in the form of a half-circle, around which the course and opposite balcony were bent in exact parallelism. Making this turn was considered in all respects the most telling test of a charioteer; it was, in fact, the very feat in which Orestes failed. As an involuntary admission of interest on the part of the spectators, a hush fell over all the circus, so that for the first time in the race the rattle and clang of the cars plunging after the tugging steeds were distinctly heard. Then, it would seem, Messala observed Ben-Hur, and recognized him; and at once the audacity of the man flamed out in an astonishing man
6. "Down Eros, up Mars!" he shouted, whirling his
lash with practiced hand. "Down Eros, up Mars!" he repeated, and caught the well-doing Arabs of Ben-Hur a cut the like of which they had never known.
The blow was seen in every quarter, and the amazement was universal. The silence deepened; up on the benches behind the consul the boldest held his breath, waiting for the outcome. Only a moment thus; then, involuntarily, down from the balcony, as thunder falls, burst the indignant cry of the people.
7. The four sprang forward affrighted. No hand had ever been laid upon them except in love; they had been nurtured ever so tenderly; and as they grew, their confidence in man became a lesson to men beautiful to see. What should such dainty natures do under such indignity but leap as from death?
8. Forward they sprang as with one impulse, and forward leaped the car. Past question, every experience is serviceable to us. Where got Ben-Hur the large hand and mighty grip which helped him now so well? Where but from the oar with which so long he fought the sea! And what was this spring of the floor under his feet to the dizzy, eccentric lurch with which in the old time the trembling ship yielded to the beat of staggering billows, drunk with their power? So he kept his place, and gave the four free rein, and called to them in soothing voice, trying merely to guide them round the dangerous turn; and before the fever of the people began to abate, he had back the mastery. Nor that only; on approaching the first goal he was again side by side with Messala, bearing with him the sympathy and admiration of every one not a Roman. So clearly was the feeling shown, so vigorous its manifestation, that Messala, with all his boldness, felt it unsafe to trifle further.
9. As the cars whirled round the goal Esther caught
sight of Ben-Hur's face-a little pale, a little higher raised, otherwise calm, even placid.
Immediately a man climbed on the entablature at the west end of the division-wall, and took down one of the conical wooden balls. A dolphin on the east entablature was taken down at the same time.
In like manner, the second ball and second dolphin disappeared, and then the third ball and third dolphin.
The "editor" (3) here mentioned was the superintendent of the races; the "Athenian's mishap" (4) is an allusion to an accident which happened to the Athenian's chariot at the beginning of the race. Sanballat (4) is a friend of Ben-Hur's, and is betting on him; "sestertii" (4) is the plural of "sestertium," an ancient Roman coin worth about forty dollars, hence a hundred sestertii equal about four thousand dollars. Among the ancient Greeks Eros was the god of Love, Mars the god of War; hence, "Down Eros, up Mars" (6) is another way of saying, "Love is nothing, war everything." The taking down of a wooden ball and a wooden dolphin (9) signified that a round run had been made; seven wooden balls and seven pieces of wood cut to represent dolphins were set on entablatures in the circus: the entablature is the upper part of a column.
1. elăm'òr; n. loud and con- 9. shēik; n. a chief among the tinued shouting. Arabians and the Moors.
The Chariot Race.
1. Three rounds concluded; still Messala held the inside position, still Ben-Hur moved with him side by side, still the other competitors followed as before. The contest began to have the appearance of one of the double races which became so popular in Rome during the later Cæsarean period-Messala and Ben-Hur in the first, the Corinthian, Sidonian, and Byzantine in the second. Meantime the ushers succeeded in returning the multitude to their
seats, though the clamor continued to run the rounds, keeping, as it were, even pace with the rivals in the course below.
2. In the fifth round the Sidonian succeeded in getting a place outside Ben-Hur, but lost it directly.
The sixth round was entered upon without change of relative position.
Gradually the speed had been quickened; gradually the blood of the competitors warmed with the work. Men and beasts seemed to know alike that the final crisis was near, bringing the time for the winner to assert himself.
3. The interest, which from the beginning had centered chiefly in the struggle between the Roman and the Jew, with an intense and general sympathy for the latter, was fast changing to anxiety on his account. On all the benches the spectators bent forward motionless, except as their faces turned following the contestants. Ilderim quitted combing his beard, and Esther forgot her fears.
"A hundred sestertii on the Jew!" cried Sanballat to the Romans under the consul's awning.
There was no reply.
"A talent-or five talents-or ten; choose ye!"
He shook his tablets at them defiantly.
4. "I will take thy sestertii," answered a Roman youth, preparing to write.
"Do not so," interposed a friend.
"Messala hath reached his utmost speed. See him lean over his chariot-rim, the reins lying loose as flying ribbons. Look then at the Jew."
The first one looked.
"By Hercules!" he replied, his countenance falling. "The dog throws all his weight on the bits. I see! I see!