The horse was fresh, and choosing his own gait, sped swiftly. The eyes of the clambering vines winked at the rider from the garden fences on the way; there was nothing else to see him, nor child nor woman nor man. Through the rocky float in the hollows of the road the agate hoofs drummed, ringing like cups of steel; but without notice from any stranger. In the houses passed there were no tenants; the fires by the tent-doors were out; the road was deserted; for this was the first Passover eve, and the hour “between the evenings” when the visiting millions crowded the city, and the slaughter of lambs in offering reeked the fore-courts of the Temple, and the priests in ordered lines caught the flowing blood and carried it swiftly to the dripping altars- when all was haste and hurry, racing with the stars fast coming with the signal after which the roasting and the eating and the singing might go on, but not the preparation more.
Through the great northern gate the rider rode, and lo! Jerusalem before the fall, in ripeness of glory, illuminated for the Lord.
A SERPENT OF THE NILE.
BEN-HUR alighted at the gate of the khan from which the three Wise Men more than thirty years before departed, going down to Bethlehem. There, in keeping of his Arab followers, he left the horse, and shortly after was at the wicket of his father’s house, and in a yet briefer space in the great chamber. He called for Malluch first; that worthy being out, he sent a salutation to his friends, the merchant and the Egyptian. They were being carried abroad to see the celebration. The latter, he was informed, was very feeble, and in a state of deep dejection.
Young people of that time who were supposed hardly to know their own hearts indulged the habit of politic indirection quite as much as young people in the same condition indulge it in this time; so when Ben-Hur inquired for the good Balthasar, and with grave courtesy desired to know if he would be pleased to see him, he really addressed the daughter a notice of his arrival. While the servant was answering for the elder, the curtain of the doorway was drawn aside, and the younger Egyptian came in, and walked- or floated, upborne in a white cloud of the gauzy raiment she so loved and lived in- to the centre of the chamber, where the light cast by lamps from the seven-armed brazen stick planted upon the floor was the strongest. With her there was no fear of light.
The servant left the two alone.
In the excitement occasioned by the events of the few days past Ben-Hur had scarcely given a thought to the fair Egyptian. If she came to his mind at all, it was merely as a briefest pleasure, a suggestion of a delight which could wait for him, and was waiting.