Page:Ben-Hur a tale of the Christ.djvu/58

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52
BEN-HUR: A TALE OF THE CHRIST.

and spoke positively—"I tell you the khan is full. It is useless to ask at the gate."

Joseph's will was slow, like his mind; he hesitated, but at length replied, "The offer is kind. Whether there be room for us or not in the house, we will go see your people. Let me speak to the gate-keeper myself. I will return quickly."

And, putting the leading-strap in the stranger's hand, he pushed into the stirring crowd.

The keeper sat on a great cedar block outside the gate. Against the wall behind him leaned a javelin. A dog squatted on the block by his side.

"The peace of Jehovah be with you," said Joseph, at last confronting the keeper.

"What you give, may you find again; and, when found, be it many times multiplied to you and yours," returned the watchman, gravely, though without moving.

"I am a Bethlehemite," said Joseph, in his most deliberate way. "Is there not room for—"

"There is not."

"You may have heard of me—Joseph of Nazareth. This is the house of my fathers. I am of the line of David."

These words held the Nazarene's hope. If they failed him, further appeal was idle, even that of the offer of many shekels. To be a son of Judah was one thing—in the tribal opinion a great thing; to be of the house of David was yet another; on the tongue of a Hebrew there could be no higher boast. A thousand years and more had passed since the boyish shepherd became the successor of Saul and founded a royal family. Wars, calamities, other kings, and the countless obscuring processes of time had, as respects fortune, lowered his descendants to the common Jewish level; the bread they ate came to them of toil never more humble; yet they had the benefit of history sacredly kept, of which genealogy was the first chapter and the last; they could not become unknown; while, wherever they went in Israel, acquaintance drew after it a respect amounting to reverence.

If this were so in Jerusalem, and elsewhere, certainly one of the sacred line might reasonably rely upon it at the