"A few weeks ago," said Malluch, continuing, "the old Arab called on Simonides, and found me present. I observed he seemed much moved about something, and, in deference, offered to withdraw, but he himself forbade me. 'As you are an Israelite,' he said, 'stay, for I have a strange story to tell.' The emphasis on the word Israelite excited my curiosity. I remained, and this is in substance his story--I cut it short because we are drawing nigh the tent, and I leave the details to the good man himself. A good many years ago, three men called at Ilderim's tent out in the wilderness. They were all foreigners, a Hindoo, a Greek, and an Egyptian; and they had come on camels, the largest he had ever seen, and all white. He welcomed them, and gave them rest. Next morning they arose and prayed a prayer new to the sheik--a prayer addressed to God and his son--this with much mystery besides. After breaking fast with him, the Egyptian told who they were, and whence they had come. Each had seen a star, out of which a voice had bidden them go to Jerusalem and ask, Where is he that is born King of the Jews?' They obeyed. From Jerusalem they were led by a star to Bethlehem, where, in a cave, they found a child newly born, which they fell down and worshipped; and after worshipping it, and giving it costly presents, and bearing witness of what it was, they took to their camels, and fled without pause to the sheik, because if Herod--meaning him surnamed the Great--could lay hands upon them, he would certainly kill them. And, faithful to his habit, the sheik took care of them, and kept them concealed for a year, when they departed, leaving with him gifts of great value, and each going a separate way."
"It is, indeed, a most wonderful story," Ben-Hur exclaimed at its conclusion. "What did you say they were to ask at Jerusalem?"
"They were to ask, 'Where is he that is born King of the Jews?'"
"There was more to the question, but I cannot recall it."
"Ilderim is a grave man, though excitable as all Arabs are. A lie on his tongue is impossible."
Malluch spoke positively. Thereupon the dromedaries were forgotten, and, quite as unmindful of their riders, they turned off the road to the growing grass.
"Has Ilderim heard nothing more of the three men?" asked Ben-Hur. "What became of them?"
"Ah, yes, that was the cause of his coming to Simonides the day of which I was speaking. Only the night before that day the Egyptian reappeared to him."