But now the influence of the woman revived with all its force the instant Ben-Hur beheld her. He advanced to her eagerly, but stopped and gazed. Such a change he had never seen! Theretofore she had been a lover studious to win him- in manner all warmth, each glance an admission, each action an avowal. She had showered him with incense of flattery. While he was present, she had impressed him with her admiration; going away, he carried the impression with him to remain a delicious expectancy hastening his return. It was for him the painted eyelids drooped lowest over the lustrous almond eyes; for him the love-stories caught from the professionals abounding in the streets of Alexandria were repeated with emphasis and lavishment of poetry; for him endless exclamations of sympathy, and smiles, and little privileges with hand and hair and cheek and lips, and songs of the Nile, and displays of jewelry, and subtleties of lace in veils and scarfs, and other subtleties not less exquisite in flosses of Indian silk. The idea, old as the oldest of peoples, that beauty is the reward of the hero had never such realism as she contrived for his pleasure; insomuch that he could not doubt he was her hero; she avouched it in a thousand artful ways as natural with her as her beauty- winsome ways reserved, it would seem, by the passionate genius of old Egypt for its daughters.
Such the Egyptian had been to Ben-Hur from the night of the boat-ride on the lake in the Orchard of Palms. But now! Elsewhere in this volume the reader may have observed a term of somewhat indefinite meaning used reverently in a sacred connection; we repeat it now with a general application. There are few persons who have not a double nature, the real and the acquired, the latter a kind of addendum resulting from education, which in time often perfects it into a part of the being as unquestionable as the first. Leaving the thought to the thoughtful, we proceed to say that now the real nature of the Egyptian made itself manifest.
It was not possible for her to have received a stranger with repulsion more incisive; yet she was apparently as passionless as a statue, only the small head was a little tilted, the nostrils a little drawn, and the sensuous lower lip pushed the upper the least bit out of its natural curvature. She was the first to speak.
“Your coming is timely, O son of Hur,” she said, in a voice sharply distinct. “I wish to thank you for hospitality; after to-morrow I may not have the opportunity to do so.”
Ben-Hur bowed slightly without taking his eyes from her.
“I have heard of a custom which the dice-players observe with good result among themselves,” she continued. “When the game is over, they refer to their tablets and cast up their accounts; then they libate the gods and put a crown upon the happy winner. We have had a game- it has lasted through many days and nights. Why, now that it is at an end, shall not we see to which the chaplet belongs?”