Yet very watchful, Ben-Hur answered, lightly, “A man may not balk a woman bent on having her way.”
“Tell me,” she continued, inclining her head, and permitting the sneer to become positive- “tell me, O prince of Jerusalem, where is he, that son of the carpenter of Nazareth, and son not less of God, from whom so lately such mighty things were expected?”
He waved his hand impatiently, and replied, “I am not his keeper.”
The beautiful head sank forward yet lower.
“Has he broken Rome to pieces?”
Again, but with anger, Ben-Hur raised his hand in deprecation.
“Where has he seated his capital?” she proceeded. “Cannot I go see his throne and its lions of bronze? And his palace- he raised the dead; and to such a one, what is it to raise a golden house? He has but to stamp his foot and say the word, and the house is, pillared like Karnak, and wanting nothing.”
There was by this time slight ground left to believe her playing; the questions were offensive, and her manner pointed with unfriendliness; seeing which, he on his side became more wary, and said, with good-humour, “O Egypt, let us wait another day, even another week, for him, the lions, and the palace.”
She went on without noticing the suggestion.
“And how is it I see you in that garb? Such is not the habit of governors in India or vice-kings elsewhere. I saw the satrap of Teheran once, and he wore a turban of silk and a cloak of cloth of gold, and the hilt and scabbard of his sword made me dizzy with their splendour of precious stones. I thought Osiris had lent him a glory from the sun. I fear you have not entered upon your kingdom- the kingdom I was to share with you.”
“The daughter of my wise guest is kinder than she imagines herself; she is teaching me that Isis may kiss a heart without making it better.”
Ben-Hur spoke with cold courtesy, and Iras, after playing with the pendent solitaire of her necklace of coins, rejoined, “For a Jew, the son of Hur is clever. I saw your dreaming Caesar make his entry into Jerusalem. You told us he would that day proclaim himself King of the Jews from the steps of the Temple. I beheld the procession descend the mountain bringing him. I heard their singing. They were beautiful with palms in motion. I looked everywhere among them for a figure with a promise of royalty- a horseman in purple, a chariot with a driver in shining brass, a stately warrior behind an orbed shield, rivalling his spear in stature. I looked for his guard. It would have been pleasant to have seen a prince of Jerusalem and a cohort of the legions of Galilee.”
She flung her listener a glance of provoking disdain, then laughed heartily, as if the ludicrousness of the picture in her mind were too strong for contempt.