She regarded him intently a moment, as if determining what to do- possibly she might have been measuring his will- then she said, coldly, “You have my leave- go.”
“Peace to you,” he responded, and walked away.
As he was about passing out of the door, she called to him.
He stopped where he was, and looked back.
“Consider all I know about you.”
“O most fair Egyptian,” he said, returning, “what all do you know about me?”
She looked at him absently.
“You are more of a Roman, son of Hur, than any of your Hebrew brethren.”
“Am I so unlike my countrymen?” he asked, indifferently.
“The demi-gods are all Roman now,” she rejoined.
“And therefore you will tell me what more you know about me?”
“The likeness is not lost upon me. It might induce me to save you.”
The pink-stained fingers toyed daintily with the lustrous pendent at the throat, and her voice was exceeding low and soft; only a tapping on the floor with her silken sandal admonished him to have a care.
“There was a Jew, an escaped galley-slave, who killed a man in the Palace of Idernee,” she began, slowly.
Ben-Hur was startled.
“The same Jew slew a Roman soldier before the Market-place here in Jerusalem; the same Jew has three trained legions from Galilee to seize the Roman governor to-night; the same Jew has alliances perfected for war upon Rome, and Ilderim the Sheik is one of his partners.”
Drawing nearer him, she almost whispered- “You have lived in Rome. Suppose these things repeated in ears we know of. Ah! you change colour.”
He drew back from her with somewhat of the look which may be imagined upon the face of a man who, thinking to play with a kitten, has run upon a tiger; and she proceeded- “You are acquainted in the antechamber, and know the Lord Sejanus. Suppose it were told him with the proofs in hand- or without the proofs- that the same Jew is the richest man in the East- nay, in all the empire. The fishes of the Tiber would have fattening other than that they dig out of its ooze, would they not? And while they were feeding- ha! son of Hur!- what splendour there would be on exhibition in the Circus! Amusing the Roman people is a fine art; getting the money to keep them amused is another art even finer; and was there ever an artist the equal of the Lord Sejanus?”
Ben-Hur was not too much stirred by the evident baseness of the woman for recollection. Not infrequently, when all the other faculties are numb and failing, memory does its offices with the greatest fidelity. The scene at the spring on the way to the Jordan reproduced itself; and he remembered thinking then that Esther had betrayed him, and thinking so now, he said, calmly as he could- “To give you pleasure, daughter of Egypt, I acknowledge your cunning, and that I am at your mercy. It may also please you to hear me acknowledge I have no hope of your favour. I could kill you, but you are a woman. The desert is open to receive me; and though Rome is a good hunter of men, there she would follow long and far before she caught me, for in its heart there are wildernesses of spears as well as wildernesses of sand, and it is not unlovely to the unconquered Parthian. In the toils as I am- dupe that I have been- yet there is one thing my due: who told you all you know about me? In flight or captivity, dying even, there will be consolation in leaving the traitor the curse of a man who has lived knowing nothing but wretchedness. Who told you all you know about me?”