"The first task I charged myself with after leaving the shelter given me in the desert"--Balthasar cast a grateful look at Ilderim--"was to learn what became of the Child. But a year had passed, and I dared not go up to Judea in person, for Herod still held the throne bloody-minded as ever. In Egypt, upon my return, there were a few friends to believe the wonderful things I told them of what I had seen and heard--a few who rejoiced with me that a Redeemer was born--a few who never tired of the story. Some of them came up for me looking after the Child. They went first to Bethlehem, and found there the khan and the cave; but the steward--he who sat at the gate the night of the birth, and the night we came following the star--was gone. The king had taken him away, and he was no more seen."
"But they found some proofs, surely," said Ben-Hur, eagerly.
"Yes, proofs written in blood--a village in mourning; mothers yet crying for their little ones. You must know, when Herod heard of our flight, he sent down and slew the youngest-born of the children of Bethlehem. Not one escaped. The faith of my messengers was confirmed; but they came to me saying the Child was dead, slain with the other innocents."
"Dead!" exclaimed Ben-Hur, aghast. "Dead, sayest thou?"
"Nay, my son, I did not say so. I said they, my messengers, told me the Child was dead. I did not believe the report then; I do not believe it now."
"I see--thou hast some special knowledge."
"Not so, not so," said Balthasar, dropping his gaze. "The Spirit was to go with us no farther than to the Child. When we came out of the cave, after our presents were given and we had seen the babe, we looked first thing for the star; but it was gone, and we knew we were left to ourselves. The last inspiration of the Holy One--the last I can recall--was that which sent us to Ilderim for safety."
"Yes," said the sheik, fingering his beard nervously. "You told me you were sent to me by a Spirit--I remember it."