A blush burned Esther’s whole face.
“I did not mean you to tell him so, father. I was concerned for him alone- for his happiness, not mine. Because I have dared love him, I shall keep myself worthy his respect; so only can I excuse my folly. Let me read his letter now.”
“Yes, read it.”
She began at once, in haste to conclude the distasteful subject.
“Nisan 8th day.
“On the road from Galilee to Jerusalem.
“The Nazarene is on the way also. With him, though without his knowledge, I am bringing a full legion of mine. A second legion follows. The Passover will excuse the multitude. He said upon setting out, ‘We will go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning me shall be accomplished.’ “Our waiting draws to an end.
“Peace to thee, Simonides. “BEN-HUR.”
Esther returned the letter to her father, while a choking sensation gathered in her throat. There was not a word in the missive for her- not even in the salutation had she a share- and it would have been so easy to have written “and to thine, peace.” For the first time in her life she felt the smart of a jealous sting.
“The eighth day,” said Simonides, “the eighth day; and this, Esther, this is the- ”
“The ninth,” she replied.
“Ah, then, they may be in Bethany now.”
“And possibly we may see him to-night,” she added, pleased into momentary forgetfulness.
“It may be, it may be! To-morrow is the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and he may wish to celebrate it; so may the Nazarene; and we may see him- we may see both of them, Esther.”
At this point the servant appeared with the wine and water. Esther helped her father, and in the midst of the service Iras came upon the roof.
To the Jewess the Egyptian never appeared so very, very beautiful as at that moment. Her gauzy garments fluttered about her like a little cloud of mist; her forehead, neck, and arms glittered with the massive jewelry so affected by her people. Her countenance was suffused with pleasure. She moved with buoyant steps, and self-conscious, though without affectation. Esther at the sight shrank within herself, and nestled closer to her father.
“Peace to you, Simonides, and to the pretty Esther peace,” said Iras, inclining her head to the latter. “You remind me, good master- if I may say it without offence- you remind me of the priests in Persia who climb their temples at the decline of day to send prayers after the departing sun. Is there anything in the worship you do not know, let me call my father. He is Magian-bred.”
“Fair Egyptian,” the merchant replied, nodding with grave politeness, “your father is a good man who would not be offended if he knew I told you his Persian lore is the least part of his wisdom.”