“When we overtook you, son of Hur,” he said, at the conclusion of the repast, “it seemed your face was also turned towards Jerusalem. May I ask, without offence, if you are going so far?”

“I am going to the Holy City.”

“For the great need I have to spare myself prolonged toil, I will further ask you, Is there a shorter road than that by Rabbath-Ammon?”

“A rougher route, but shorter, lies by Geresa and Rabbath-Gilead. It is the one I design taking.”

“I am impatient,” said Balthasar. “Latterly my sleep has been visited by dreams- or rather by the same dream in repetition. A voice- it is nothing more- comes and tells me, ‘Haste- arise! He whom thou hast so long awaited is at hand.'”

“You mean he that is to be King of the Jews?” Ben-Hur asked, gazing at the Egyptian in wonder.

“Even so.”

“Then you have heard nothing of him?”

“Nothing, except the words of the voice in the dream.”

“Here, then, are tidings to make you glad as they made me.”

From his gown Ben-Hur drew the letter received from Malluch. The hand the Egyptian held out trembled violently. He read aloud, and as he read his feelings increased; the limp veins in his neck swelled and throbbed. At the conclusion he raised his suffused eyes in thanksgiving and prayer. He asked no questions, yet had no doubts.

“Thou hast been very good to me, O God,” he said. “Give me, I pray thee, to see the Saviour again, and worship him, and thy servant will be ready to go in peace.”

The words, the manner, the singular personality of the simple prayer, touched Ben-Hur with a sensation new and abiding. God never seemed so actual and so near by it was as if he were there bending over them or sitting at their side- a Friend whose favours were to be had by the most unceremonious asking- a Father to whom all his children were alike in love- Father, not more of the Jew than of the Gentile- the universal Father, who needed no intermediates, no rabbis, no priests, no teachers. The idea that such a God might send mankind a Saviour instead of a king appeared to Ben-Hur in a light not merely new, but so plain that he could almost discern both the greater want of such a gift and its greater consistency with the nature of such a Deity. So he could not resist asking- “Now that he has come, O Balthasar, you still think he is to be a Saviour, and not a king?”

Balthasar gave him a look thoughtful as it was tender.

“How shall I understand you?” he asked, in return. “The Spirit, which was the Star that was my guide of old, has not appeared to me since I met you in the tent of the good sheik; that is to say, I have not seen or heard it as formerly. I believe the voice that spoke to me in my dreams was it; but other than that I have no revelation.”