Meanwhile, Balthasar was conducted to the divan, where Ilderim and Ben-Hur received him standing. A loose black gown covered his person; his step was feeble, and his whole movement slow and cautious, apparently dependent upon a long staff and the arm of a servant.
“Peace to you, my friend,” said Ilderim, respectfully. “Peace and welcome.”
The Egyptian raised his head and replied, “And to thee, good sheik- to thee and thine, peace and the blessing of the One God- God, the true and loving.”
The manner was gentle and devout, and impressed Ben-Hur with a feeling of awe; besides which the blessing included in the answering salutation had been partly addressed to him, and while that part was being spoken, the eyes of the aged guest, hollow yet luminous, rested upon his face long enough to stir an emotion new and mysterious, and so strong that he again and again during the repast scanned the much wrinkled and bloodless face for its meaning; but always there was the expression bland, placid, and trustful as a child’s. A little later he found that expression habitual.
“This is he, O Balthasar,” said the sheik, laying his hand on Ben-Hur’s arm, “who will break bread with us this evening.”
The Egyptian glanced at the young man, and looked again, surprised and doubting; seeing which the sheik continued, “I have promised him my horses for trial to-morrow; and if all goes well, he will drive them in the Circus.”
Balthasar continued his gaze.
“He came well recommended,” Ilderim pursued, much puzzled. “You may know him as the son of Arrius, who was a noble Roman sailor, though”- the sheik hesitated, then resumed, with a laugh- “though he declares himself an Israelite of the tribe of Judah; and, by the splendour of God, I believe that he tells me!”
Balthasar could no longer withhold explanation.
“To-day, O most generous sheik, my life was in peril, and would have been lost had not a youth, the counterpart of this one- if, indeed, he be not the very same- intervened when all others fled, and saved me.” Then he addressed Ben-Hur directly, “Art thou not he?”
“I cannot answer so far,” Ben-Hur replied, with modest deference. “I am he who stopped the horses of the insolent Roman when they were rushing upon thy camel at the Fountain of Castalia. Thy daughter left a cup with me.”
From the bosom of his tunic he produced the cup, and gave it to Balthasar.
A glow lighted the faded countenance of the Egyptian.
“The Lord sent thee to me at the Fountain to-day,” he said, in a tremulous voice, stretching his hand towards Ben-Hur; “and he sends thee to me now. I give him thanks; and praise him thou, for of his favour I have wherewith to give thee great reward, and I will. The cup is thine; keep it.”
Ben-Hur took back the gift, and Balthasar, seeing the inquiry upon Ilderim’s face, related the occurrence at the Fountain.