"Sheik Ilderim," said Ben-Hur then, "I have heard strange things tonight. Give me leave, I pray, to walk by the lake that I may think of them."
"Go; and I will come after you."
They washed their hands again; after which, at a sign from the master, a servant brought Ben-Hur his shoes, and directly he went out.
Up a little way from the dower there was a cluster of palms, which threw its shade half in the water, half on the land. A bulbul sang from the branches a song of invitation. Ben-Hur stopped beneath to listen. At any other time the notes of the bird would have driven thought away; but the story of the Egyptian was a burden of wonder, and he was a laborer carrying it, and, like other laborers, there was to him no music in the sweetest music until mind and body were happily attuned by rest.
The night was quiet. Not a ripple broke upon the shore. The old stars of the old East were all out, each in its accustomed place; and there was summer everywhere--on land, on lake, in the sky.
Ben-Hur's imagination was heated, his feelings aroused, his will all unsettled.
So the palms, the sky, the air, seemed to him of the far south zone into which Balthasar had been driven by despair for men; the lake, with its motionless surface, was a suggestion of the Nilotic mother by which the good man stood praying when the Spirit made its radiant appearance. Had all these accessories of the miracle come to Ben-Hur? or had he been transferred to them? And what if the miracle should be repeated--and to him? He feared, yet wished, and even waited for the vision. When at last his feverish mood was cooled, permitting him to become himself, he was able to think.
His scheme of life has been explained. In all reflection about it heretofore there had been one hiatus which he had not been able to bridge or fill up--one so broad he could see but vaguely to the other side of it. When, finally, he was graduated a captain as well as a soldier, to what object should he address his efforts? Revolution he contemplated, of course; but the processes of revolution have always been the same, and to lead men into them there have always been required, first, a cause or presence to enlist adherents; second, an end, or something as a practical achievement. As a rule he fights well who has wrongs to redress; but vastly better fights he who, with wrongs as a spur, has also steadily before him a glorious result in prospect--a result in which he can discern balm for wounds, compensation for valor, remembrance and gratitude in the event of death.