By the basin, under a small portico cut in the solid wall, sat a priest, old, bearded, wrinkled, cowled--never being more perfectly eremitish. From the manner of the people present, hardly might one say which was the attraction, the fountain, forever sparkling, or the priest, forever there. He heard, saw, was seen, but never spoke. Occasionally a visitor extended a hand to him with a coin in it. With a cunning twinkle of the eyes, he took the money, and gave the party in exchange a leaf of papyrus.
The receiver made haste to plunge the papyrus into the basin; then, holding the dripping leaf in the sunlight, he would be rewarded with a versified inscription upon its face; and the fame of the fountain seldom suffered loss by poverty of merit in the poetry. Before Ben-Hur could test the oracle, some other visitors were seen approaching across the meadow, and their appearance piqued the curiosity of the company, his not less than theirs.
He saw first a camel, very tall and very white, in leading of a driver on horseback. A houdah on the animal, besides being unusually large, was of crimson and gold. Two other horsemen followed the camel with tall spears in hand.
"What a wonderful camel!" said one of the company.
"A prince from afar," another one suggested.
"If he were on an elephant, I would say he was a king."
A third man had a very different opinion.
"A camel--and a white camel!" he said, authoritatively. "By Apollo, friends, they who come yonder--you can see there are two of them--are neither kings nor princes; they are women!"