"What!" said the sheik to Ben-Hur. "Thou saidst nothing of this to me, when better recommendation thou couldst not have brought. Am I not an Arab, and sheik of my tribe of tens of thousands? And is not he my guest? And is it not in my guest-bond that the good or evil thou dost him is good or evil done to me? Whither shouldst thou go for reward but here? And whose the hand to give it but mine?"
His voice at the end of the speech rose to cutting shrillness.
"Good sheik, spare me, I pray. I came not for reward, great or small; and that I may be acquitted of the thought, I say the help I gave this excellent man would have been given as well to thy humblest servant."
"But he is my friend, my guest--not my servant; and seest thou not in the difference the favor of Fortune?" Then to Balthasar the sheik subjoined, "Ah, by the splendor of God! I tell thee again he is not a Roman."
With that he turned away, and gave attention to the servants, whose preparations for the supper were about complete.
The reader who recollects the history of Balthasar as given by himself at the meeting in the desert will understand the effect of Ben-Hur's assertion of disinterestedness upon that worthy. In his devotion to men there had been, it will be remembered, no distinctions; while the redemption which had been promised him in the way of reward--the redemption for which he was waiting--was universal. To him, therefore, the assertion sounded somewhat like an echo of himself. He took a step nearer Ben-Hur, and spoke to him in the childlike way.
"How did the sheik say I should call you? It was a Roman name, I think."
"Were, saidst thou? Are they not living?"