She laid her hand softly upon his shoulder.

“You have offended against the law. The gods you have drunk to are false gods. Why shall I not tell the rabbis on you?”

“Oh!” he replied, laughing, “that is very little to tell for one who knows so much else that is really important.”

“I will go further- I will go to the little Jewess who makes the roses grow and the shadows flame in the house of the great merchant over in Antioch. To the rabbis I will accuse you of impenitence; to her- ”

“Well, to her?”

“I will repeat what you have said to me under the lifted cup, with the gods for witnesses.”

He was still a moment, as if waiting for the Egyptian to go on. With quickened fancy he saw Esther at her father’s side listening to the despatches he had forwarded- sometimes reading them. In her presence he had told Simonides the story of the affair in the Palace of Idernee. She and Iras were acquainted; this one was shrewd and worldly; the other was simple and affectionate, and therefore easily won. Simonides could not have broken faith- nor Ilderim- for if not held by honour, there was no one, unless it might be himself, to whom the consequences of exposure were more serious and certain. Could Esther have been the Egyptian’s informant? He did not accuse her; yet a suspicion was sown with the thought, and suspicions, as we all know, are weeds of the mind which grow of themselves, and most rapidly when least wanted. Before he could answer the allusion to the little Jewess, Balthasar came to the pool.

“We are greatly indebted to you, son of Hur,” he said, in his grave manner. “This vale is very beautiful; the grass, the trees, the shade, invite us to stay and rest, and the spring here has the sparkle of diamonds in motion, and sings to me of a loving God. It is not enough to thank you for the enjoyment we find; come sit with us, and taste our bread.”

“Suffer me first to serve you.”

With that Ben-Hur filled the goblet, and gave it to Balthasar, who lifted his eyes in thanksgiving.

Immediately the slave brought napkins; and after laving their hands and drying them, the three seated themselves in Eastern style under the tent which years before had served the Wise Men at the meeting in the desert. And they ate heartily of the good things taken from the camel’s pack.


CHAPTER III.

THE LIFE OF A SOUL.

THE tent was cosily pitched beneath a tree where the gurgle of the stream was constantly in ear. Overhead the broad leaves hung motionless on their stems; the delicate reed-stalks off in the pearly haze stood up arrowy-straight; occasionally a home-returning bee shot humming athwart the shade, and a partridge, creeping from the sedge, drank, whistled to his mate, and ran away. The restfulness of the vale, the freshness of the air, the garden beauty, the Sabbath stillness, seemed to have affected the spirits of the elder Egyptian; his voice, gestures, and whole manner were unusually gentle; and often as he bent his eyes upon Ben-Hur conversing with Iras, they softened with pity.