It might have been a touch of art, or might have been sincere- that as it may- the expression of the Egyptian’s face became sympathetic.
“There are in my country, O son of Hur,” she said, presently, “workmen who make pictures by gathering vari-coloured shells here and there on the sea-shore after storms, and cutting them up, and patching the pieces as inlaying on marble slabs. Can you not see the hint there is in the practice to such as go gathering for secrets? Enough that from this person I gathered a handful of little circumstances, and from that other yet another handful, and that afterwhile I put them together, and was happy as a woman can be who has at disposal the fortune and life of a man whom”- she stopped and beat the floor with her foot, and looked away as if to hide a sudden emotion from him; with an air of even painful resolution she presently finished the sentence- “whom she is at loss what to do with.”
“No, it is not enough,” Ben-Hur said, unmoved by the play- “it is not enough. To-morrow you will determine what to do with me. I may die.”
“True,” she rejoined quickly and with emphasis, “I had something from Sheik Ilderim as he lay with my father in a grove out in the desert. The night was still, very still, and the walls of the tent, sooth to say, were poor ward against ears outside listening to- birds and beetles flying through the air.”
She smiled at the conceit, but proceeded:- “Some other things- bits of shell for the picture- I had from- ”
“The son of Hur himself.”
“Was there no other who contributed?”
“No, not one.”
Hur drew a breath of relief, and said, lightly, “Thanks. It were not well to keep the Lord Sejanus waiting for you. The desert is not so sensitive. Again, O Egypt, peace!”
To this time he had been standing uncovered; now he took the handkerchief from his arm where it had been hanging, and adjusting it upon his head, turned to depart. But she arrested him; in her eagerness, she even reached a hand to him.
“Stay,” she said.
He looked back at her, but without taking the hand, though it was very noticeable for its sparkling of jewels; and he knew by her manner that the reserved point of the scene which was so surprising to him was now to come.
“Stay, and do not distrust me, O son of Hur, if I declare I know why the noble Arrius took you for his heir. And, by Iris! by all the gods of Egypt! I swear I tremble to think of you, so brave and generous, under the hand of the remorseless minister. You have left a portion of your youth in the atria of the great capital; consider, as I do, what the desert will be to you in contrast of life. Oh, I give you pity- pity! And if you but do what I say, I will save you. That, also, I swear, by our holy Isis!”