“Bring me a cup,” Iras said, with some impatience.
From the houdah the slave brought her a crystal goblet; then she said to Ben-Hur- “I will be your servant at the fountain.”
They walked to the pool together. He would have dipped the water for her, but she refused his offer, and kneeling, held the cup to be filled by the stream itself; nor yet content, when it was cooled and overrunning, she tendered him the first draught.
“No,” he said, putting the graceful hand aside, and seeing only the large eyes half hidden beneath the arches of the upraised brows, “be the service mine, I pray.” She persisted in having her way.
“In my country, O son of Hur, we have a saying, ‘Better a cupbearer to the fortunate than minister to a king.'”
“Fortunate!” he said.
There were both surprise and inquiry in the tone of his voice and in his look, and she said quickly- “The gods give us success as a sign by which we may know them on our side. Were you not winner in the Circus?”
His cheeks began to flush.
“That was one sign. There is another. In a combat with swords you slew a Roman.”
The flush deepened- not so much for the triumphs themselves as the flattery there was in the thought that she had followed his career with interest. A moment, and the pleasure was succeeded by a reflection. The combat, he knew, was matter of report throughout the East; but the name of the victor had been committed to a very few- Malluch, Ilderim, and Simonides. Could they have made a confidante of the woman? So with wonder and gratification he was confused; and seeing it, she arose and said, holding the cup over the pool- “O gods of Egypt! I give thanks for a hero discovered- thanks that the victim in the Palace of Idernee was not my king of men. And so, O holy gods, I pour and drink.”
Part of the contents of the cup she returned to the stream, the rest she drank. When she took the crystal from her lips, she laughed at him.
“O son of Hur, is it a fashion of the very brave to be so easily overcome by a woman? Take the cup now, and see if you cannot find a happy word in it for me!”
He took the cup, and stooped to refill it.
“A son of Israel has no gods whom he can libate,” he said, playing with the water to hide his amazement, now greater than before. What more did the Egyptian know about him? Had she been told of his relations with Simonides? And there was the treaty with Ilderim- had she knowledge of that also? He was struck with mistrust. Somebody had betrayed his secrets, and they were serious. And, besides, he was going to Jerusalem, just then of all the world the place where such intelligence possessed by an enemy might be most dangerous to him, his associates, and the cause. But was she an enemy? It is well for us that, while writing is slow, thought is instantaneous. When the cup was fairly cooled, he filled it and arose, saying, with indifference well affected- “Most fair, were I an Egyptian or a Greek or a Roman, I would say”- he raised the goblet overhead as he spoke- “O ye better gods! I give thanks that there are yet left to the world, despite its wrongs and sufferings, the charm of beauty and the solace of love, and I drink to her who best represents them- to Iras, loveliest of the daughters of the Nile!”