"As to the things you have heard but now," said Ilderim, almost without pause, "take in belief all save that relating to the kind of kingdom the Child will set up when he comes; as to so much keep virgin mind until you hear Simonides the merchant--a good man here in Antioch, to whom I will make you known. The Egyptian gives you coinage of his dreams which are too good for the earth; Simonides is wiser; he will ring you the sayings of your prophets, giving book and page, so you cannot deny that the Child will be King of the Jews in fact--ay, by the splendor of God! a king as Herod was, only better and far more magnificent. And then, see you, we will taste the sweetness of vengeance. I have said. Peace to you!"
If Ilderim heard his call, he did not stay.
"Simonides again!" said Ben-Hur, bitterly. "Simonides here, Simonides there; from this one now, then from that! I am like to be well ridden by my father's servant, who knows at least to hold fast that which is mine; wherefore he is richer, if indeed he be not wiser, than the Egyptian. By the covenant! it is not to the faithless a man should go to find a faith to keep--and I will not. But, hark! singing--and the voice a woman's--or an angel's! It comes this way."
Down the lake towards the dower came a woman singing. Her voice floated along the hushed water melodious as a flute, and louder growing each instant. Directly the dipping of oars was heard in slow measure; a little later the words were distinguishable--words in purest Greek, best fitted of all the tongues of the day for the expression of passionate grief.
I sigh as I sing for the story land Across the Syrian sea. The odorous winds from the musky sand Were breaths of life to me. They play with the plumes of the whispering palm For me, alas! no more; Nor more does the Nile in the moonlit calm Moan past the Memphian shore.
O Nilus! thou god of my fainting soul! In dreams thou comest to me; And, dreaming, I play with the lotus bowl, And sing old songs to thee; And hear from afar the Memnonian strain, And calls from dear Simbel; And wake to a passion of grief and pain That e'er I said--Farewell!
At the conclusion of the song the singer was past the cluster of palms. The last word--farewell--floated past Ben-Hur weighted with all the sweet sorrow of parting. The passing of the boat was as the passing of a deeper shadow into the deeper night.
Ben-Hur drew a long breath hardly distinguishable from a sigh.