The landing was a simple affair, consisting of a short stairway, and a platform garnished by some lamp-posts; yet at the top of the steps he paused, arrested by what he beheld.
There was a shallop resting upon the clear water lightly as an egg-shell. An Ethiop- the camel-driver at the Castalian fount- occupied the rower’s place, his blackness intensified by a livery of shining white. All the boat aft was cushioned and carpeted with stuffs brilliant with Tyrian red. On the rudder seat sat the Egyptian herself, sunk in Indian shawls and a very vapour of most delicate veils and scarfs. Her arms were bare to the shoulders; and, not merely faultless in shape, they had the effect of compelling attention to them- their pose, their action, their expression; the hands, the fingers even, seemed endowed with graces and meaning; each was an object of beauty. The shoulders and neck were protected from the evening air by an ample scarf, which yet did not hide them.
In the glance he gave her, Ben-Hur paid no attention to these details. There was simply an impression made upon him; and, like strong light, it was a sensation, not a thing of sight or enumeration. Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet; thy temples are like a piece of pomegranate within thy locks. Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away; for, lo! the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in the land- such was the impression she made upon him translated into words.
“Come,” she said, observing him stop, “come, or I shall think you a poor sailor.”
The red of his cheek deepened. Did she know anything of his life upon the sea? He descended to the platform at once.
“I was afraid,” he said, as he took the vacant seat before her.
“Of sinking the boat,” he replied, smiling.
“Wait until we are in deeper water,” she said, giving a signal to the black, who dipped the oars, and they were off.
If love and Ben-Hur were enemies, the latter was never more at mercy. The Egyptian sat where he could not but see her; she, whom he had already engrossed in memory as his ideal of the Shulamite. With her eyes giving light to his, the stars might come out, and he not see them; and so they did. The night might fall with unrelieved darkness everywhere else; her look would make illumination for him. And then, as everybody knows, given youth and such companionship, there is no situation in which the fancy takes such complete control as upon tranquil waters under a calm night sky, warm with summer. It is so easy at such time to glide imperceptibly out of the commonplace into the ideal.
“Give me the rudder,” he said.