“A quick voyage, O Egypt!” he cried.
“And a briefer stay!” she replied, as, with a strong push, the black sent them shooting into the open water again.
“You will give me the rudder now.”
“Oh no,” said she, laughing. “To you, the chariot; to me, the boat. We are merely at the lake’s end, and the lesson is that I must not sing any more. Having been to Egypt, let us now go to the Grove of Daphne.”
“Without a song on the way?” he said, in deprecation.
“Tell me something of the Roman from whom you saved us yesterday,” she asked.
The request struck Ben-Hur unpleasantly.
“I wish this were the Nile,” he said, evasively. “The kings and queens, having slept so long, might come down from their tombs, and ride with us.”
“They were of the colossi, and would sink our boat. The pygmies would be preferable. But tell me of the Roman. He is very wicked, is he not?”
“I cannot say.”
“Is he of noble family, and rich?”
“I cannot speak of his riches.”
“How beautiful his horses were! and the bed of his chariot was gold, and the wheels ivory. And his audacity! The bystanders laughed as he rode away; they, who were so nearly under his wheels!”
She laughed at the recollection.
“They were rabble,” said Ben-Hur, bitterly.
“He must be one of the monsters who are said to be growing up in Rome- Apollos ravenous as Cerberus. Does he reside in Antioch?”
“He is of the East somewhere.”
“Egypt would suit him better than Syria.”
“Hardly,” Ben-Hur replied. “Cleopatra is dead.”
That instant the lamps burning before the door of the tent came into view.
“The dowar!” she cried.
“Ah, then, we have not been to Egypt. I have not seen Karnak or Philae or Abydos. This is not the Nile. I have but heard a song of India, and been boating in a dream.”
“Philae- Karnak. Mourn rather that you have not seen the Rameses at Aboo Simbul, looking at which makes it so easy to think of God, the maker of the heavens and earth. Or why should you mourn at all? Let us go on to the river; and if I cannot sing”- she laughed- “because I have said I would not, yet I can tell you stories of Egypt.”
“Go on! Aye, till morning comes, and the evening, and the next morning!” he said, vehemently.
“Of what shall my stories be? Of the mathematicians?”
“Of the philosophers?”
“Of the magicians and genii?”
“If you will.”
“I will tell you a cure for love. It is the story of a queen. Listen reverently. The papyrus from which it was taken by the priests of Philae was wrested from the hand of the heroine herself. It is correct in form, and must be true: