Balthasar raised his eyes devoutly.

“There is a kingdom on the earth, though it is not of it- a kingdom of wider bounds than the earth- wider than the sea and the earth, though they are rolled together as finest gold and spread by the beating of hammers. Its existence is a fact as our hearts are facts, and we journey through it from birth to death without seeing it; nor shall any man see it until he hath first known his own soul; for the kingdom is not for him, but for his soul. And in its dominion there is glory such as hath not entered imagination- original, incomparable, impossible of increase.”

“What thou sayest, father, is a riddle to me,” said Ben-Hur. “I never heard of such a kingdom.”

“Nor did I,” said Ilderim.

“And I may not tell more of it,” Balthasar added, humbly dropping his eye’s. “What it is, what it is for, how it may be reached, none can know until the Child comes to take possession of it as his own. He brings the key of the viewless gate, which he will open for his beloved, among whom will be all who love him, for of such only the redeemed will be.”

After that there was a long silence, which Balthasar accepted as the end of the conversation.

“Good sheik,” he said, in his placid way, “to-morrow or the next day I will go up to the city for a time. My daughter wishes to see the preparations for the games. I will speak further about the time of our going. And, my son, I will see you again. To you both, peace, and good night.”

They all arose from the table. The sheik and Ben-Hur remained looking after the Egyptian until he was conducted out of the tent.

“Sheik Ilderim,” said Ben-Hur then, “I have heard strange things to-night. I pray to walk by the lake that I may think of them.”

“Go; and I will come after you.”

They washed their hands again; after which, at a sign from the master, a servant brought Ben-Hur his shoes, and directly he went out.


CHAPTER XVII.

THE KINGDOM- SPIRITUAL OR POLITICAL?

UP a little way from the dowar there was a cluster of palms, which threw its shades half in the water, half on the land. A bulbul sang from the branches a song of invitation. Ben-Hur stopped beneath to listen. At any other time the notes of the bird would have driven thought away; but the story of the Egyptian was a burden of wonder and he was a labourer carrying it, and like other labourers, there was to him no music in the sweetest music until mind and body were happily attuned at rest.

The night was quiet. Not a ripple broke upon the shore. The old stars of the old East were all out, each in its accustomed place; and there was summer everywhere- on land, on lake, in the sky.