“What!” said the sheik to Ben-Hur. “Thou saidst nothing of this to me, when better recommendation thou couldst not have brought. Am I not an Arab, and sheik of my tribe of tens of thousands? And is not he my guest? And is it not in my guest-bond that the good or evil thou dost him is good or evil done to me? Whither shouldst thou go for reward but here? And whose the hand to give it but mine?”
His voice at the end of the speech rose to cutting shrillness.
“Good sheik, spare me, I pray. I came not for reward, great or small; and that I may be acquitted of the thought, I say the help I gave this excellent man would have been given as well to thy humblest servant.”
“But he is my friend, my guest- not my servant; and seest thou not in the difference the favour of Fortune?” Then to Balthasar the sheik subjoined, “Ah, by the splendour of God! I tell thee again he is not a Roman.”
With that he turned away, and gave attention to the servants, whose preparations for the supper were about complete.
The reader who recollects the history of Balthasar as given by himself at the meeting in the desert, will understand the effect of Ben-Hur’s assertion of disinterestedness upon that worthy. In his devotion to men there had been, it will be remembered, no distinctions; while the redemption which had been promised him in the way of reward- the redemption for which he was waiting- was universal. To him, therefore, the assertion sounded somewhat like an echo of himself. He took a step nearer Ben-Hur, and spoke to him in the childlike way.
“How did the sheik say I should call you? It was a Roman name, I think.”
“Arrius, the son of Arrius.”
“Yet thou art not a Roman?”
“All my people were Jews.”
“Were, saidst thou? Are they not living?”
The question was subtle as well as simple; but Ilderim saved Ben-Hur from reply.
“Come,” he said to them, “the meal is ready.”
Ben-Hur gave his arm to Balthasar, and conducted him to the table, where shortly they were all seated on their rugs, Eastern fashion. The lavers were brought them, and they washed and dried their hands; then the sheik made a sign, the servants stopped, and the voice of the Egyptian arose, tremulous with holy feeling- “Father of All- God! What we have is of thee; take our thanks, and bless us, that we may continue to do thy will.”
It was the grace the good man had said simultaneously with his brethren Gaspar the Greek and Melchior the Hindoo, the utterance in diverse tongues out of which had come the miracle attesting the Divine Presence at the meal in the desert years before.
The table to which they immediately addressed themselves was, as may be thought, rich in the substantials and delicacies favourite in the East- in cakes hot from the oven, vegetables from the gardens, meats singly, compounds of meats and vegetables, milk of kine, and honey and butter- all eaten or drunk, it should be remarked, without any of the modern accessories- knives, forks, spoons, cups, or plates; and in this part of the repast but little was said, for they were hungry. But when the dessert was in course it was otherwise. They laved their hands again, had the lap-cloths shaken out, and with a renewed table and the sharp edge of their appetites gone, they were disposed to talk and listen.