As he rode, thinking of the wondrous events so soon to happen, and of the changes they were to bring about in the affairs of men and nations, the guide, ever on the alert, called attention to the appearance of strangers behind them. Everywhere around the desert stretched away in waves of sand, slowly yellowing in the growing light, and without any green thing visible. Over on the left, but still far off, a range of low mountains extended, apparently interminable. In the vacancy of such a waste an object in motion could not long continue a mystery.
“It is a camel with riders,” the guide said, directly.
“Are there others behind?” said Ben-Hur.
“It is alone. No, there is a man on horseback- the driver, probably.”
A little later Ben-Hur himself could see the camel was white and unusually large, reminding him of the wonderful animal he had seen bring Balthasar and Iras to the fountain in the Grove of Daphne. There could be no other like it. Thinking then of the fair Egyptian, insensibly his gait became slower, and at length fell into the merest loiter, until finally he could discern a curtained houdah, and two persons seated within it. If they were Balthasar and Iras! Should he make himself known to them? But it could not be: this was the desert- and they were alone. But while he debated the question the long swinging stride of the camel brought its riders up to him. He heard the ringing of the tiny bells and beheld the rich housings which had been so attractive to the crowd at the Castalian fount. He beheld also the Ethiopian, always attendant upon the Egyptians. The tall brute stopped close by his horse, and Ben-Hur, looking up, lo! Iras herself under the raised curtain looking down at him, her great swimming eyes bright with astonishment and inquiry! “The blessing of the true God upon you!” said Balthasar, in his tremulous voice.
“And to thee and thine be the peace of the Lord,” Ben-Hur replied.
“My eyes are weak with years,” said Balthasar; “but they approve you that son of Hur whom lately I knew an honoured guest in the tent of Ilderim the Generous.”
“And thou art that Balthasar, the wise Egyptian, whose speech concerning certain holy things in expectation is having so much to do with the finding me in this waste place. What dost thou here?”
“He is never alone who is where God is- and God is everywhere,” Balthasar answered, gravely; “but in the sense of your asking, there is a caravan a short way behind us going to Alexandria; and as it is to pass through Jerusalem, I thought best to avail myself of its company as far as the Holy City, whither I am journeying. This morning, however, in discontent with its slow movement- slower because of a Roman cohort in attendance upon it- we rose early, and ventured thus far in advance. As to robbers along the way, we are not afraid, for I have here a signet of Sheik Ilderim; against beasts of prey, God is our sufficient trust.”