eBooks Cube
 
CHAPTER IX



As a rule, there is no surer way to the dislike of men than to
behave well where they have behaved badly. In this instance,
happily, Malluch was an exception to the rule. The affair he had
just witnessed raised Ben-Hur in his estimation, since he could
not deny him courage and address; could he now get some insight
into the young man's history, the results of the day would not
be all unprofitable to good master Simonides.

On the latter point, referring to what he had as yet learned, two
facts comprehended it all--the subject of his investigation was
a Jew, and the adopted son of a famous Roman. Another conclusion
which might be of importance was beginning to formulate itself
in the shrewd mind of the emissary; between Messala and the son
of the duumvir there was a connection of some kind. But what
was it?--and how could it be reduced to assurance? With all his
sounding, the ways and means of solution were not at call. In the
heat of the perplexity, Ben-Hur himself came to his help. He laid
his hand on Malluch's arm and drew him out of the crowd, which was
already going back to its interest in the gray old priest and the
mystic fountain.

"Good Malluch," he said, stopping, "may a man forget his mother?"

The question was abrupt and without direction, and therefore of
the kind which leaves the person addressed in a state of confusion.
Malluch looked into Ben-Hur's face for a hint of meaning, but saw,
instead, two bright-red spots, one on each cheek, and in his eyes
traces of what might have been repressed tears; then he answered,
mechanically, "No!" adding, with fervor, "never;" and a moment
after, when he began to recover himself, "If he is an Israelite,
never!" And when at length he was completely recovered--"My first
lesson in the synagogue was the Shema; my next was the saying of
the son of Sirach, 'Honor thy father with thy whole soul, and forget
not the sorrows of thy mother.'"

The red spots on Ben-Hur's face deepened.

"The words bring my childhood back again; and, Malluch, they prove
you a genuine Jew. I believe I can trust you."

Ben-Hur let go the arm he was holding, and caught the folds of
the gown covering his own breast, and pressed them close, as if to
smother a pain, or a feeling there as sharp as a pain.

"My father," he said, "bore a good name, and was not without honor
in Jerusalem, where he dwelt. My mother, at his death, was in the
prime of womanhood; and it is not enough to say of her she was good
and beautiful: in her tongue was the law of kindness, and her works
were the praise of all in the gates, and she smiled at days to come.
I had a little sister, and she and I were the family, and we were so
happy that I, at least, have never seen harm in the saying of the
old rabbi, 'God could not be everywhere, and, therefore, he made
mothers.' One day an accident happened to a Roman in authority as
he was riding past our house at the head of a cohort; the legionaries
burst the gate and rushed in and seized us. I have not seen my mother
or sister since. I cannot say they are dead or living. I do not know
what became of them. But, Malluch, the man in the chariot yonder was
present at the separation; he gave us over to the captors; he heard
my mother's prayer for her children, and he laughed when they dragged
her away. Hardly may one say which graves deepest in memory, love or
hate. To-day I knew him afar--and, Malluch--"

He caught the listener's arm again.

"And, Malluch, he knows and takes with him now the secret I would
give my life for: he could tell if she lives, and where she is,
and her condition; if she--no, THEY--much sorrow has made the
two as one--if they are dead, he could tell where they died,
and of what, and where their bones await my finding."

"And will he not?"

"No."

"Why?"

"I am a Jew, and he is a Roman."

"But Romans have tongues, and Jews, though ever so despised,
have methods to beguile them."

"For such as he? No; and, besides, the secret is one of state.
All my father's property was confiscated and divided."

Malluch nodded his head slowly, much as to admit the argument;
then he asked anew, "Did he not recognize you?"

"He could not. I was sent to death in life, and have been long
since accounted of the dead."

"I wonder you did not strike him," said Malluch, yielding to a
touch of passion.

"That would have been to put him past serving me forever. I would
have had to kill him, and Death, you know, keeps secrets better
even than a guilty Roman."

The man who, with so much to avenge, could so calmly put such
an opportunity aside must be confident of his future or have
ready some better design, and Malluch's interest changed with
the thought; it ceased to be that of an emissary in duty bound
to another. Ben-Hur was actually asserting a claim upon him for
his own sake. In other words, Malluch was preparing to serve him
with good heart and from downright admiration.

After brief pause, Ben-Hur resumed speaking.

"I would not take his life, good Malluch; against that extreme
the possession of the secret is for the present, at least,
his safeguard; yet I may punish him, and so you give me help,
I will try."

"He is a Roman," said Malluch, without hesitation; "and I am of
the tribe of Judah. I will help you. If you choose, put me under
oath--under the most solemn oath."

"Give me your hand, that will suffice."

As their hands fell apart, Ben-Hur said, with lightened feeling,
"That I would charge you with is not difficult, good friend;
neither is it dreadful to conscience. Let us move on."

They took the road which led to the right across the meadow spoken
of in the description of the coming to the fountain. Ben-Hur was
first to break the silence.

"Do you know Sheik Ilderim the Generous?"

"Yes."

"Where is his Orchard of Palms? or, rather, Malluch, how far is
it beyond the village of Daphne?"

Malluch was touched by a doubt; he recalled the prettiness of the
favor shown him by the woman at the fountain, and wondered if he
who had the sorrows of a mother in mind was about to forget them
for a lure of love; yet he replied, "The Orchard of Palms lies
beyond the village two hours by horse, and one by swift camel."

"Thank you; and to your knowledge once more. Have the games of
which you told me been widely published? and when will they take
place?"

The questions were suggestive; and if they did not restore Malluch his
confidence, they at least stimulated his curiosity.

"Oh yes, they will be of ample splendor. The prefect is rich,
and could afford to lose his place; yet, as is the way with
successful men, his love of riches is nowise diminished; and to
gain a friend at court, if nothing more, he must make ado for the
Consul Maxentius, who is coming hither to make final preparations
for a campaign against the Parthians. The money there is in the
preparations the citizens of Antioch know from experience; so they
have had permission to join the prefect in the honors intended for
the great man. A month ago heralds went to the four quarters to
proclaim the opening of the Circus for the celebration. The name
of the prefect would be of itself good guarantee of variety and
magnificence, particularly throughout the East; but when to his
promises Antioch joins hers, all the islands and the cities by
the sea stand assured of the extraordinary, and will be here in
person or by their most famous professionals. The fees offered
are royal."

"And the Circus--I have heard it is second only to the Maximus."

"At Rome, you mean. Well, ours seats two hundred thousand people,
yours seats seventy-five thousand more; yours is of marble, so is
ours; in arrangement they are exactly the same."

"Are the rules the same?"

Malluch smiled.

"If Antioch dared be original, son of Arrius, Rome would not be
the mistress she is. The laws of the Circus Maximus govern except
in one particular: there but four chariots may start at once,
here all start without reference to number."

"That is the practise of the Greeks," said Ben-Hur.

"Yes, Antioch is more Greek than Roman."

"So then, Malluch, I may choose my own chariot?"

"Your own chariot and horses. There is no restriction upon either."

While replying, Malluch observed the thoughtful look on Ben-Hur's
face give place to one of satisfaction.

"One thing more now, O Malluch. When will the celebration be?"

"Ah! your pardon," the other answered. "To-morrow--and the next
day," he said, counting aloud, "then, to speak in the Roman style,
if the sea-gods be propitious, the consul arrives. Yes, the sixth
day from this we have the games."

"The time is short, Malluch, but it is enough." The last words
were spoken decisively. "By the prophets of our old Israel! I will
take to the reins again. Stay! a condition; is there assurance that
Messala will be a competitor?"

Malluch saw now the plan, and all its opportunities for the
humiliation of the Roman; and he had not been true descendant
of Jacob if, with all his interest wakened, he had not rushed
to a consideration of the chances. His voice actually trembled
as he said, "Have you the practise?"

"Fear not, my friend. The winners in the Circus Maximus have held
their crowns these three years at my will. Ask them--ask the best of
them--and they will tell you so. In the last great games the emperor
himself offered me his patronage if I would take his horses in hand
and run them against the entries of the world."

"But you did not?"

Malluch spoke eagerly.

"I--I am a Jew"--Ben-Hur seemed shrinking within himself
as he spoke--"and, though I wear a Roman name, I dared not
do professionally a thing to sully my father's name in the
cloisters and courts of the Temple. In the palaestrae I could
indulge practise which, if followed into the Circus, would become
an abomination; and if I take to the course here, Malluch, I swear
it will not be for the prize or the winner's fee."

"Hold--swear not so!" cried Malluch. "The fee is ten thousand
sestertii--a fortune for life!"

"Not for me, though the prefect trebled it fifty times. Better than
that, better than all the imperial revenues from the first year
of the first Caesar--I will make this race to humble my enemy.
Vengeance is permitted by the law."

Malluch smiled and nodded as if saying, "Right, right--trust me
a Jew to understand a Jew."

"The Messala will drive," he said, directly. "He is committed to
the race in many ways--by publication in the streets, and in the
baths and theaters, the palace and barracks; and, to fix him past
retreat, his name is on the tablets of every young spendthrift in
Antioch."

"In wager, Malluch?"

"Yes, in wager; and every day he comes ostentatiously to practise,
as you saw him."

"Ah! and that is the chariot, and those the horses, with which
he will make the race? Thank you, thank you, Malluch! You have
served me well already. I am satisfied. Now be my guide to the
Orchard of Palms, and give me introduction to Sheik Ilderim the
Generous."

"When?"

"To-day. His horses may be engaged to-morrow."

"You like them, then?"

Ben-Hur answered with animation,

"I saw them from the stand an instant only, for Messala then
drove up, and I might not look at anything else; yet I recognized
them as of the blood which is the wonder as well as the glory of
the deserts. I never saw the kind before, except in the stables
of Caesar; but once seen, they are always to be known. To-morrow,
upon meeting, I will know you, Malluch, though you do not so much
as salute me; I will know you by your face, by your form, by your
manner; and by the same signs I will know them, and with the same
certainty. If all that is said of them be true, and I can bring
their spirit under control of mine, I can--"

"Win the sestertii!" said Malluch, laughing.

"No," answered Ben-Hur, as quickly. "I will do what better becomes
a man born to the heritage of Jacob--I will humble mine enemy in a
most public place. But," he added, impatiently, "we are losing time.
How can we most quickly reach the tents of the sheik?"

Malluch took a moment for reflection.

"It is best we go straight to the village, which is fortunately
near by; if two swift camels are to be had for hire there, we will
be on the road but an hour."

"Let us about it, then."

The village was an assemblage of palaces in beautiful gardens,
interspersed with khans of princely sort. Dromedaries were happily
secured, and upon them the journey to the famous Orchard of Palms
was begun.





Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace
Category:
General Fiction
Nabou.com: the big site