"Iras, the daughter of Balthasar, sends me with salutation and a message," said a servant to Ben-Hur, who was taking his ease in the tent.
"Would it please you to accompany her upon the lake?"
"I will carry the answer myself. Tell her so."
His shoes were brought him, and in a few minutes Ben-Hur sallied out to find the fair Egyptian. The shadow of the mountains was creeping over the Orchard of Palms in advance of night. Afar through the trees came the tinkling of sheep bells, the lowing of cattle, and the voices of the herdsmen bringing their charges home. Life at the Orchard, it should be remembered, was in all respects as pastoral as life on the scantier meadows of the desert.
Sheik Ilderim had witnessed the exercises of the afternoon, being a repetition of those of the morning; after which he had gone to the city in answer to the invitation of Simonides; he might return in the night; but, considering the immensity of the field to be talked over with his friend, it was hardly possible. Ben-Hur, thus left alone, had seen his horses cared for; cooled and purified himself in the lake; exchanged the field garb for his customary vestments, all white, as became a Sadducean of the pure blood; supped early; and, thanks to the strength of youth, was well recovered from the violent exertion he had undergone.
It is neither wise nor honest to detract from beauty as a quality. There cannot be a refined soul insensible to its influence. The story of Pygmalion and his statue is as natural as it is poetical. Beauty is of itself a power; and it was now drawing Ben-Hur.
The Egyptian was to him a wonderfully beautiful woman--beautiful of face, beautiful of form. In his thought she always appeared to him as he saw her at the fountain; and he felt the influence of her voice, sweeter because in tearful expression of gratitude to him, and of her eyes--the large, soft, black, almond-shaped eyes declarative of her race--eyes which looked more than lies in the supremest wealth of words to utter; and recurrences of the thought of her were returns just so frequent of a figure tall, slender, graceful, refined, wrapped in rich and floating drapery, wanting nothing but a fitting mind to make her, like the Shulamite, and in the same sense, terrible as an army with banners. In other words, as she returned to his fancy, the whole passionate Song of Solomon came with her, inspired by her presence. With this sentiment and that feeling, he was going to see if she actually justified them. It was not love that was taking him, but admiration and curiosity, which might be the heralds of love.
The landing was a simple affair, consisting of a short stairway, and a platform garnished by some lamp-posts; yet at the top of the steps he paused, arrested by what he beheld.