A woman--in the old time she would have been called a handmaid--answered, and dexterously piled the pillows and bolsters as rests for the back; after which they sat upon the side of the divan, while water was brought fresh from the lake, and their feet bathed and dried with napkins.
"We have a saying in the Desert," Ilderim began, gathering his beard, and combing it with his slender fingers, "that a good appetite is the promise of a long life. Hast thou such?"
"By that rule, good sheik, I will live a hundred years. I am a hungry wolf at thy door," Ben-Hur replied.
"Well, thou shalt not be sent away like a wolf. I will give thee the best of the flocks."
"Seek the stranger in the guest-tent, and say I, Ilderim, send him a prayer that his peace may be as incessant as the flowing of waters."
"Say, also," Ilderim continued, "that I have returned with another for breaking of bread; and, if Balthasar the wise careth to share the loaf, three may partake of it, and the portion of the birds be none the less."
Thereupon Ilderim settled himself upon the divan, as at this day merchants sit on their rugs in the bazaars of Damascus; and when fairly at rest, he stopped combing his beard, and said, gravely, "That thou art my guest, and hast drunk my leben, and art about to taste my salt, ought not to forbid a question: Who art thou?"
"Sheik Ilderim," said Ben-Hur, calmly enduring his gaze, "I pray thee not to think me trifling with thy just demand; but was there never a time in thy life when to answer such a question would have been a crime to thyself?"