“Speak, and tell me thy visions, O Egypt, dear Egypt! A prophet- nay, not the Tishbite, not even the Lawgiver- could have refused an asking of thine. I am at thy will. Be merciful- merciful, I pray.”
The entreaty passed apparently unheard, for looking up and nestling in his embrace, she said, slowly, “The vision which followed me was of magnificent war- war on land and sea- with clashing of arms and rush of armies, as if Caesar and Pompey were come again, and Octavius and Antony. A cloud of dust and ashes arose and covered the world, and Rome was not any more; all dominion returned to the East; out of the cloud issued another race of heroes; and there were vaster satrapies and brighter crowns for giving away than were ever known. And, son of Hur, while the vision was passing, and after it was gone, I kept asking myself, ‘What shall he not have who served the King earliest and best?'”
Again Ben-Hur recoiled. The question was the very question which had been with him all day. Presently he fancied he had the clue he wanted.
“So,” he said, “I have you now. The satrapies and crowns are the things to which you would help me. I see, I see! And there never was such queen as you would be, so shrewd, so beautiful, so royal- never! But, alas, dear Egypt! by the vision as you show it me the prizes are all of war, and you are but a woman, though Isis did kiss you on the heart. And crowns are starry gifts beyond your power of help, unless, indeed, you have a way to them more certain than that of the sword. If so, O Egypt, Egypt, show it me, and I will walk in it, if only for your sake.”
She removed his arm, and said, “Spread your cloak upon the sand- here, so I can rest against the camel. I will sit, and tell you a story which came down the Nile to Alexandria, where I had it.”
He did as she said, first planting the spear in the ground near by.
“And what shall I do?” he said, ruefully, when she was seated. “In Alexandria is it customary for the listeners to sit or stand?”
From the comfortable place against the old domestic she answered, laughing, “The audiences of story-tellers are willful, and sometimes they do as they please.”
Without more ado he stretched himself upon the sand, and put her arm about his neck.
“I am ready,” he said.
And directly she began-
HOW THE BEAUTIFUL CAME TO THE EARTH.
“You must know, in the first place, that Isis was- and, for that matter, she may yet be- the most beautiful of deities; and, Osiris, her husband, though wise and powerful, was sometimes stung with jealousy of her, for only in their loves are the gods like mortals.