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CHAPTER II



About the time the couriers departed from Messala's door with the
despatches (it being yet the early morning hour), Ben-Hur entered
I1derim's tent. He had taken a plunge into the lake, and breakfasted,
and appeared now in an under-tunic, sleeveless, and with skirt scarcely
reaching to the knee.

The sheik saluted him from the divan.

"I give thee peace, son of Arrius," he said, with admiration, for,
in truth, he had never seen a more perfect illustration of glowing,
powerful, confident manhood. "I give thee peace and good-will.
The horses are ready, I am ready. And thou?"

"The peace thou givest me, good sheik, I give thee in return.
I thank thee for so much good-will. I am ready."

Ilderim clapped his hands.

"I will have the horses brought. Be seated."

"Are they yoked?"

"No."

"Then suffer me to serve myself," said Ben-Hur. "It is needful
that I make the acquaintance of thy Arabs. I must know them by
name, O sheik, that I may speak to them singly; nor less must
I know their temper, for they are like men: if bold, the better
of scolding; if timid, the better of praise and flattery. Let the
servants bring me the harness."

"And the chariot?" asked the sheik.

"I will let the chariot alone to-day. In its place, let them bring
me a fifth horse, if thou hast it; he should be barebacked, and fleet
as the others."

Ilderim's wonder was aroused, and he summoned a servant immediately.

"Bid them bring the harness for the four," he said--"the harness
for the four, and the bridle for Sirius."

Ilderim then arose.

"Sirius is my love, and I am his, O son of Arrius. We have been
comrades for twenty years--in tent, in battle, in all stages of the
desert we have been comrades. I will show him to you."

Going to the division curtain, he held it, while Ben-Hur passed
under. The horses came to him in a body. One with a small head,
luminous eyes, neck like the segment of a bended bow, and mighty
chest, curtained thickly by a profusion of mane soft and wavy
as a damsel's locks, nickered low and gladly at sight of him.

"Good horse," said the sheik, patting the dark-brown cheek.
"Good horse, good-morning." Turning then to Ben-Hur, he added,
"This is Sirius, father of the four here. Mira, the mother,
awaits our return, being too precious to be hazarded in a region
where there is a stronger hand than mine. And much I doubt," he
laughed as he spoke--"much I doubt, O son of Arrius, if the tribe
could endure her absence. She is their glory; they worship her;
did she gallop over them, they would laugh. Ten thousand horsemen,
sons of the desert, will ask to-day, 'Have you heard of Mira?' And
to the answer, 'She is well,' they will say, 'God is good! blessed
be God!'"

"Mira--Sirius--names of stars, are they not, O sheik?" asked
Ben-Hur, going to each of the four, and to the sire, offering his
hand.

"And why not?" replied Ilderim. "Wert thou ever abroad on the
desert at night?"

"No."

"Then thou canst not know how much we Arabs depend upon the stars.
We borrow their names in gratitude, and give them in love. My fathers
all had their Miras, as I have mine; and these children are stars
no less. There, see thou, is Rigel, and there Antares; that one is
Atair, and he whom thou goest to now is Aldebaran, the youngest
of the brood, but none the worse of that--no, not he! Against
the wind he will carry thee till it roar in thy ears like Akaba;
and he will go where thou sayest, son of Arrius--ay, by the glory
of Solomon! he will take thee to the lion's jaws, if thou darest
so much."

The harness was brought. With his own hands Ben-Hur equipped the
horses; with his own hands he led them out of the tent, and there
attached the reins.

"Bring me Sirius," he said.

An Arab could not have better sprung to seat on the courser's back.

"And now the reins."

They were given him, and carefully separated.

"Good sheik," he said, "I am ready. Let a guide go before me to
the field, and send some of thy men with water."

There was no trouble at starting. The horses were not afraid.
Already there seemed a tacit understanding between them and
the new driver, who had performed his part calmly, and with
the confidence which always begets confidence. The order of
going was precisely that of driving, except that Ben-Hur sat
upon Sirius instead of standing in the chariot. Ilderim's spirit
arose. He combed his beard, and smiled with satisfaction as he
muttered, "He is not a Roman, no, by the splendor of God!" He
followed on foot, the entire tenantry of the dowar--men, women,
and children--pouring after him, participants all in his solicitude,
if not in his confidence.

The field, when reached, proved ample and well fitted for the
training, which Ben-Hur began immediately by driving the four
at first slowly, and in perpendicular lines, and then in wide
circles. Advancing a step in the course, he put them next into
a trot; again progressing, he pushed into a gallop; at length
he contracted the circles, and yet later drove eccentrically here
and there, right, left, forward, and without a break. An hour was
thus occupied. Slowing the gait to a walk, he drove up to Ilderim.

"The work is done, nothing now but practice," he said. "I give
you joy, Sheik Ilderim, that you have such servants as these.
See," he continued, dismounting and going to the horses, "see,
the gloss of their red coats is without spot; they breathe lightly
as when I began. I give thee great joy, and it will go hard if"--he
turned his flashing eyes upon the old man's face--"if we have not
the victory and our--"

He stopped, colored, bowed. At the sheik's side he observed,
for the first time, Balthasar, leaning upon his staff, and two
women closely veiled. At one of the latter he looked a second time,
saying to himself, with a flutter about his heart, "'Tis she--'tis
the Egyptian!" Ilderim picked up his broken sentence--

"The victory, and our revenge!" Then he said aloud, "I am not
afraid; I am glad. Son of Arrius, thou art the man. Be the end
like the beginning, and thou shalt see of what stuff is the lining
of the hand of an Arab who is able to give."

"I thank thee, good sheik," Ben-Hur returned, modestly. "Let the
servants bring drink for the horses."

With his own hands he gave the water.

Remounting Sirius, he renewed the training, going as before from
walk to trot, from trot to gallop; finally, he pushed the steady
racers into the run, gradually quickening it to full speed.
The performance then became exciting; and there were applause
for the dainty handling of the reins, and admiration for the four,
which were the same, whether they flew forward or wheeled in varying
curvature. In their action there were unity, power, grace, pleasure,
all without effort or sign of labor. The admiration was unmixed with
pity or reproach, which would have been as well bestowed upon swallows
in their evening flight.

In the midst of the exercises, and the attention they received from
all the bystanders, Malluch came upon the ground, seeking the sheik.

"I have a message for you, O sheik," he said, availing himself
of a moment he supposed favorable for the speech--"a message
from Simonides, the merchant."

"Simonides!" ejaculated the Arab. "Ah! 'tis well. May Abaddon take
all his enemies!"

"He bade me give thee first the holy peace of God," Malluch continued;
"and then this despatch, with prayer that thou read it the instant
of receipt."

Ilderim, standing in his place, broke the sealing of the package
delivered to him, and from a wrapping of fine linen took two letters,
which he proceeded to read.


[No. 1.]
"Simonides to Sheik Ilderim.

"O friend!

"Assure thyself first of a place in my inner heart.

"Then--

"There is in thy dowar a youth of fair presence, calling himself
the son of Arrius; and such he is by adoption.

"He is very dear to me.

"He hath a wonderful history, which I will tell thee; come thou
to-day or to-morrow, that I may tell thee the history, and have
thy counsel.

"Meantime, favor all his requests, so they be not against honor.
Should there be need of reparation, I am bound to thee for it.

"That I have interest in this youth, keep thou private.

"Remember me to thy other guest. He, his daughter, thyself, and all
whom thou mayst choose to be of thy company, must depend upon me
at the Circus the day of the games. I have seats already engaged.

"To thee and all thine, peace.

"What should I be, O my friend, but thy friend?

"SIMONIDES."


[No. 2.]
"Simonides to Sheik Ilderim.

"O friend!

"Out of the abundance of my experience, I send you a word.

"There is a sign which all persons not Romans, and who have moneys or
goods subject to despoilment, accept as warning--that is, the arrival
at a seat of power of some high Roman official charged with authority.

"To-day comes the Consul Maxentius.

"Be thou warned!

"Another word of advice.

"A conspiracy, to be of effect against thee, O friend, must include
the Herods as parties; thou hast great properties in their dominions.

"Wherefore keep thou watch.

"Send this morning to thy trusty keepers of the roads leading south
from Antioch, and bid them search every courier going and coming;
if they find private despatches relating to thee or thine affairs,
THOU SHOULDST SEE THEM.

"You should have received this yesterday, though it is not too
late, if you act promptly.

"If couriers left Antioch this morning, your messengers know the
byways, and can get before them with your orders.

"Do not hesitate.

"Burn this after reading.

"O my friend! thy friend,

"SIMONIDES."


Ilderim read the letters a second time, and refolded them in the
linen wrap, and put the package under his girdle.

The exercises in the field continued but a little longer--in all
about two hours. At their conclusion, Ben-Hur brought the four to
a walk, and drove to Ilderim.

"With leave, O sheik," he said, "I will return thy Arabs to the
tent, and bring them out again this afternoon."

Ilderim walked to him as he sat on Sirius, and said, "I give them
to you, son of Arrius, to do with as you will until after the games.
You have done with them in two hours what the Roman--may jackals gnaw
his bones fleshless!--could not in as many weeks. We will win--by the
splendor of God, we will win!"

At the tent Ben-Hur remained with the horses while they were being
cared for; then, after a plunge in the lake and a cup of arrack with
the sheik, whose flow of spirits was royally exuberant, he dressed
himself in his Jewish garb again, and walked with Malluch on into
the Orchard.

There was much conversation between the two, not all of it important.
One part, however, must not be overlooked. Ben-Hur was speaking.

"I will give you," he said, "an order for my property stored in
the khan this side the river by the Seleucian Bridge. Bring it
to me to-day, if you can. And, good Malluch--if I do not overtask
you--"

Malluch protested heartily his willingness to be of service.

"Thank you, Malluch, thank you," said Ben-Hur. "I will take you
at your word, remembering that we are brethren of the old tribe,
and that the enemy is a Roman. First, then--as you are a man of
business, which I much fear Sheik Ilderim is not--"

"Arabs seldom are," said Malluch, gravely.

"Nay, I do not impeach their shrewdness, Malluch. It is well,
however, to look after them. To save all forfeit or hindrance
in connection with the race, you would put me perfectly at rest by
going to the office of the Circus, and seeing that he has complied
with every preliminary rule; and if you can get a copy of the rules,
the service may be of great avail to me. I would like to know the
colors I am to wear, and particularly the number of the crypt
I am to occupy at the starting; if it be next Messala's on the
right or left, it is well; if not, and you can have it changed
so as to bring me next the Roman, do so. Have you good memory,
Malluch?"

"It has failed me, but never, son of Arrius, where the heart helped
it as now."

"I will venture, then, to charge you with one further service.
I saw yesterday that Messala was proud of his chariot, as he
might be, for the best of Caesar's scarcely surpass it. Can you
not make its display an excuse which will enable you to find if
it be light or heavy? I would like to have its exact weight and
measurements--and, Malluch, though you fail in all else, bring me
exactly the height his axle stands above the ground. You understand,
Malluch? I do not wish him to have any actual advantage of me.
I do not care for his splendor; if I beat him, it will make his
fall the harder, and my triumph the more complete. If there are
advantages really important, I want them."

"I see, I see!" said Malluch. "A line dropped from the centre of
the axle is what you want."

"Thou hast it; and be glad, Malluch--it is the last of my commissions.
Let us return to the dowar."

At the door of the tent they found a servant replenishing the
smoke-stained bottles of leben freshly made, and stopped to
refresh themselves. Shortly afterwards Malluch returned to
the city.

During their absence, a messenger well mounted had been despatched
with orders as suggested by Simonides. He was an Arab, and carried
nothing written.





Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace
Category:
General Fiction
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