THE THROES of recovery from drowning are more painful than the drowning. These Arrius passed through, and, at length, to Ben-Hur’s delight, reached the point of speech.
Gradually, from incoherent questions as to where he was, and by whom and how he had been saved, he reverted to the battle. The doubt of the victory stimulated his faculties to full return, a result aided not a little by a long rest—such as could be had on their frail support. After a while he became talkative.
“Our rescue, I see, depends upon the result of the fight. I see also what thou hast done for me. To speak fairly, thou hast saved my life at the risk of thy own. I make the acknowledgment broadly; and, whatever cometh, thou hast my thanks. More than that, if fortune doth but serve me kindly, and we get well out of this peril, I will do thee such favor as becometh a Roman who hath power and opportunity to prove his gratitude. Yet, yet it is to be seen if, with thy good intent, thou hast really done me a kindness; or, rather, speaking to thy good-will”—he hesitated—“I would exact of thee a promise to do me, in a certain event, the greatest favor one man can do another—and of that let me have thy pledge now.”
“If the thing be not forbidden, I will do it,” Ben-Hur replied.
Arrius rested again.
“Art thou, indeed, a son of Hur, the Jew?” he next asked.
“It is as I have said.”
“I knew thy father—”
Judah drew himself nearer, for the tribune’s voice was weak—he drew nearer, and listened eagerly—at last he thought to hear of home.
“I knew him, and loved him,” Arrius continued.
There was another pause, during which something diverted the speaker’s thought.
“It cannot be,” he proceeded, “that thou, a son of his, hast not heard of Cato and Brutus. They were very great men, and never as great as in death. In their dying, they left this law—A Roman may not survive his good-fortune. Art thou listening?”
“It is a custom of gentlemen in Rome to wear a ring. There is one on my hand. Take it now.”
He held the hand to Judah, who did as he asked.
“Now put it on thine own hand.”
Ben-Hur did so.
“The trinket hath its uses,” said Arrius next. “I have property and money. I am accounted rich even in Rome. I have no family. Show the ring to my freedman, who hath control in my absence; you will find him in a villa near Misenum. Tell him how it came to thee, and ask anything, or all he may have; he will not refuse the demand. If I live, I will do better by thee. I will make thee free, and restore thee to thy home and people; or thou mayst give thyself to the pursuit that pleaseth thee most. Dost thou hear?”
“I could not choose but hear.”
“Then pledge me. By the gods—”
“Nay, good tribune, I am a Jew.”
“By thy God, then, or in the form most sacred to those of thy faith—pledge me to do what I tell thee now, and as I tell thee; I am waiting, let me have thy promise.”
“Noble Arrius, I am warned by thy manner to expect something of gravest concern. Tell me thy wish first.”
“Wilt thou promise then?”
“That were to give the pledge, and—Blessed be the God of my fathers! yonder cometh a ship!”
“In what direction?”
“From the north.”
“Canst thou tell her nationality by outward signs?”
“No. My service hath been at the oars.”
“Hath she a flag?”
“I cannot see one.”
Arrius remained quiet some time, apparently in deep reflection.
“Does the ship hold this way yet?” he at length asked.
“Still this way.”
“Look for the flag now.”
“She hath none.”
“Nor any other sign?”
“She hath a sail set, and is of three banks, and cometh swiftly—that is all I can say of her.”
“A Roman in triumph would have out many flags. She must be an enemy. Hear now,” said Arrius, becoming grave again, “hear, while yet I may speak. If the galley be a pirate, thy life is safe; they may not give thee freedom; they may put thee to the oar again; but they will not kill thee. On the other hand, I—”
The tribune faltered.
“Perpol!” he continued, resolutely. “I am too old to submit to dishonor. In Rome, let them tell how Quintus Arrius, as became a Roman tribune, went down with his ship in the midst of the foe. This is what I would have thee do. If the galley prove a pirate, push me from the plank and drown me. Dost thou hear? Swear thou wilt do it.”
“I will not swear,” said Ben-Hur, firmly; “neither will I do the deed. The Law, which is to me most binding, O tribune, would make me answerable for thy life. Take back the ring”—he took the seal from his finger—“take it back, and all thy promises of favor in the event of delivery from this peril. The judgment which sent me to the oar for life made me a slave, yet I am not a slave; no more am I thy freedman. I am a son of Israel, and this moment, at least, my own master. Take back the ring.”
Arrius remained passive.
“Thou wilt not?” Judah continued. “Not in anger, then, nor in any despite, but to free myself from a hateful obligation, I will give thy gift to the sea. See, O tribune!”
He tossed the ring away. Arrius heard the splash where it struck and sank, though he did not look.
“Thou hast done a foolish thing,” he said; “foolish for one placed as thou art. I am not dependent upon thee for death. Life is a thread I can break without thy help; and, if I do, what will become of thee? Men determined on death prefer it at the hands of others, for the reason that the soul which Plato giveth us is rebellious at the thought of self-destruction; that is all. If the ship be a pirate, I will escape from the world. My mind is fixed. I am a Roman. Success and honor are all in all. Yet I would have served thee; thou wouldst not. The ring was the only witness of my will available in this situation. We are both lost. I will die regretting the victory and glory wrested from me; thou wilt live to die a little later, mourning the pious duties undone because of this folly. I pity thee.”
Ben-Hur saw the consequences of his act more distinctly than before, yet he did not falter.
“In the three years of my servitude, O tribune, thou wert the first to look upon me kindly. No, no! There was another.” The voice dropped, the eyes became humid, and he saw plainly as if it were then before him the face of the boy who helped him to a drink by the old well at Nazareth. “At least,” he proceeded, “thou wert the first to ask me who I was; and if, when I reached out and caught thee, blind and sinking the last time, I, too, had thought of the many ways in which thou couldst be useful to me in my wretchedness, still the act was not all selfish; this I pray you to believe. Moreover, seeing as God giveth me to know, the ends I dream of are to be wrought by fair means alone. As a thing of conscience, I would rather die with thee than be thy slayer. My mind is firmly set as thine; though thou wert to offer me all Rome, O tribune, and it belonged to thee to make the gift good, I would not kill thee. Thy Cato and Brutus were as little children compared to the Hebrew whose law a Jew must obey.”
“But my request. Hast—”
“Thy command would be of more weight, and that would not move me. I have said.”
Both became silent, waiting.
Ben-Hur looked often at the coming ship. Arrius rested with closed eyes, indifferent.
“Art thou sure she is an enemy?” Ben-Hur asked.
“I think so,” was the reply.
“She stops, and puts a boat over the side.”
“Dost thou see her flag?”
“Is there no other sign by which she may be known if Roman?”
“If Roman, she hath a helmet over the mast’s top.”
“Then be of cheer. I see the helmet.”
Still Arrius was not assured.
“The men in the small boat are taking in the people afloat. Pirates are not humane.”
“They may need rowers,” Arrius replied, recurring, possibly, to times when he had made rescues for the purpose.
Ben-Hur was very watchful of the actions of the strangers.
“The ship moves off,” he said.
“Over on our right there is a galley which I take to be deserted. The new-comer heads towards it. Now she is alongside. Now she is sending men aboard.”
Then Arrius opened his eyes and threw off his calm.
“Thank thou thy God,” he said to Ben-Hur, after a look at the galleys, “thank thou thy God, as I do my many gods. A pirate would sink, not save, yon ship. By the act and the helmet on the mast I know a Roman. The victory is mine. Fortune hath not deserted me. We are saved. Wave thy hand—call to them—bring them quickly. I shall be duumvir, and thou! I knew thy father, and loved him. He was a prince indeed. He taught me a Jew was not a barbarian. I will take thee with me. I will make thee my son. Give thy God thanks, and call the sailors. Haste! The pursuit must be kept. Not a robber shall escape. Hasten them!”
Judah raised himself upon the plank, and waved his hand, and called with all his might; at last he drew the attention of the sailors in the small boat, and they were speedily taken up.
Arrius was received on the galley with all the honors due a hero so the favorite of Fortune. Upon a couch on the deck he heard the particulars of the conclusion of the fight. When the survivors afloat upon the water were all saved and the prize secured, he spread his flag of commandant anew, and hurried northward to rejoin the fleet and perfect the victory. In due time the fifty vessels coming down the channel closed in upon the fugitive pirates, and crushed them utterly; not one escaped. To swell the tribune’s glory, twenty galleys of the enemy were captured.
Upon his return from the cruise, Arrius had warm welcome on the mole at Misenum. The young man attending him very early attracted the attention of his friends there; and to their questions as to who he was the tribune proceeded in the most affectionate manner to tell the story of his rescue and introduce the stranger, omitting carefully all that pertained to the latter’s previous history. At the end of the narrative, he called Ben-Hur to him, and said, with a hand resting affectionately upon his shoulder,
“Good friends, this is my son and heir, who, as he is to take my property—if it be the will of the gods that I leave any—shall be known to you by my name. I pray you all to love him as you love me.”
Speedily as opportunity permitted, the adoption was formally perfected. And in such manner the brave Roman kept his faith with Ben-Hur, giving him happy introduction into the imperial world. The month succeeding Arrius’s return, the armilustrium was celebrated with the utmost magnificence in the theater of Scaurus. One side of the structure was taken up with military trophies; among which by far the most conspicuous and most admired were twenty prows, complemented by their corresponding aplustra, cut bodily from as many galleys; and over them, so as to be legible to the eighty thousand spectators in the seats, was this inscription:
TAKEN FROM THE PIRATES IN THE GULF OF EURIPUS,