There was a pause in the conversation during which the Nazarenes gazed at the young Ben-Hur as at a wild beast.
“Did he kill him?” asked the rabbi.
“He is under sentence.”
“Yes – the galleys for life.”
“The Lord help him!” said Joseph, for once moved out of his stolidity.
Thereupon a youth who came up with Joseph, but had stood behind him unobserved, laid down an axe he had been carrying, and, going to the great stone standing by the well, took from it a pitcher of water. The action was so quiet that before the guard could interfere, had they been disposed to do so, he was stooping over the prisoner, and offering him drink.
The hand laid kindly upon his shoulder awoke the unfortunate Judah, and, looking up, he saw a face he never forgot – the face of a boy about his own age, shaded by locks of yellowish bright chestnut hair; a face lighted by dark-blue eyes, at the time so soft, so appealing, so full of love and holy purpose, that they had all the power of command and will. The spirit of the Jew, hardened though it was by days and nights of suffering, and so embittered by wrong that its dreams of revenge took in all the world, melted under the stranger’s look, and became as a child’s. He put his lips to the pitcher, and drank long and deep. Not a word was said to him, nor did he say a word.
When the draught was finished, the hand that had been resting upon the sufferer’s shoulder was placed upon his head, and stayed there in the dusty locks time enough to say a blessing; the stranger then returned the pitcher to its place on the stone, and, taking his axe again, went back to Rabbi Joseph. All eyes went with him, the decurion’s as well as those of the villagers.
This was the end of the scene at the well. When the men had drunk, and the horses, the march was resumed. But the temper of the decurion was not as it had been; he himself raised the prisoner from the dust, and helped him on a horse behind a soldier. The Nazarenes went to their houses – among them Rabbi Joseph and his apprentice.
And so, for the first time, Judah and the son of Mary met and parted.