“She has but exchanged sceptres. Caesar took from her that of the sword, and in its place left that of learning. Go with me to the Brucheium, and I will show you the college of nations; to the Serapeion, and see the perfection of architecture; to the Library, and read the immortals; to the theatre, and hear the heroics of the Greeks and Hindoos; to the quay, and count the triumphs of commerce; descend with me into the streets, O son of Arrius, and, when the philosophers have dispersed, and taken with them the masters of all the arts, and all the gods have home their votaries, and nothing remains of the day but its pleasures, you shall hear the stories that have amused men from the beginning, and the songs which will never, never die.”
As he listened, Ben-Hur was carried back to the night when, in the summer-house in Jerusalem, his mother, in much the same poetry of patriotism, declaimed the departed glories of Israel.
“I see now why you wish to be called Egypt. Will you sing me a song if I call you by that name? I heard you last night.”
“That was a hymn of the Nile,” she answered, “a lament which I sing when I would fancy I smell the breath of the desert, and hear the surge of the dear old river; let me rather give you a piece of the Indian mind. When we get to Alexandria, I will take you to the corner of the street where you can hear it from the daughter of the Ganga, who taught it to me. Kapila, you should know, was one of the most revered of the Hindoo sages.”
Then, as if it were a natural mode of expression, she began the song.
“Kapila, Kapila, so young and true,
I yearn for a glory like thine,
And hail thee from battle to ask anew
Can ever thy Valour be mine?
“Kapila sat on his charger dun,
A hero never so grave:
‘Who loveth all things hath fear of none,
‘Tis love that maketh me brave.
A woman gave me her soul one day,
The soul of my soul to be alway;
Thence came my Valour to me,
Go try it- try it- and see.’
“Kapila, Kapila, so old and grey,
The queen is calling for me;
But ere I go hence, I wish thou wouldst say,
How Wisdom first came to thee.
“Kapila stood in his temple door,
A priest in eremite guise:
‘It did not come as men get their lore,
‘Tis faith that maketh me wise.
A woman gave me her heart one day,
The heart of my heart to be alway;
Thence came my Wisdom to me,
Go try it- try it- and see.'”
Ben-Hur had not time to express his thanks for the song before the keel of the boat grated upon the underlying sand, and, next moment, the bow ran upon the shore.