The intercepted letter was conclusive upon a number of points of
great interest to Ben-Hur. It had all the effect of a confession
that the writer was a party to the putting-away of the family
with murderous intent; that he had sanctioned the plan adopted for
the purpose; that he had received a portion of the proceeds of the
confiscation, and was yet in enjoyment of his part; that he dreaded
the unexpected appearance of what he was pleased to call the chief
malefactor, and accepted it as a menace; that he contemplated such
further action as would secure him in the future, and was ready to
do whatever his accomplice in Caesarea might advise.
And, now that the letter had reached the hand of him really its
subject, it was notice of danger to come, as well as a confession
of guilt. So when Ilderim left the tent, Ben-Hur had much to think
about, requiring immediate action. His enemies were as adroit and
powerful as any in the East. If they were afraid of him, he had greater
reason to be afraid of them. He strove earnestly to reflect upon
the situation, but could not; his feelings constantly overwhelmed
him. There was a certain qualified pleasure in the assurance that
his mother and sister were alive; and it mattered little that the
foundation of the assurance was a mere inference. That there was
one person who could tell him where they were seemed to his hope
so long deferred as if discovery were now close at hand. These were
mere causes of feeling; underlying them, it must be confessed he
had a superstitious fancy that God was about to make ordination
in his behalf, in which event faith whispered him to stand still.
Occasionally, referring to the words of Ilderim, he wondered whence
the Arab derived his information about him; not from Malluch certainly;
nor from Simonides, whose interests, all adverse, would hold him dumb.
Could Messala have been the informant? No, no: disclosure might be
dangerous in that quarter. Conjecture was vain; at the same time,
often as Ben-Hur was beaten back from the solution, he was consoled
with the thought that whoever the person with the knowledge might
be, he was a friend, and, being such, would reveal himself in good
time. A little more waiting--a little more patience. Possibly the
errand of the sheik was to see the worthy; possibly the letter
might precipitate a full disclosure.
And patient he would have been if only he could have believed
Tirzah and his mother were waiting for him under circumstances
permitting hope on their part strong as his; if, in other words,
conscience had not stung him with accusations respecting them.
To escape such accusations, he wandered far through the Orchard,
pausing now where the date-gatherers were busy, yet not too busy
to offer him of their fruit and talk with him; then, under the
great trees, to watch the nesting birds, or hear the bees swarming
about the berries bursting with honeyed sweetness, and filling all
the green and golden spaces with the music of their beating wings.
By the lake, however, he lingered longest. He might not look upon
the water and its sparkling ripples, so like sensuous life,
without thinking of the Egyptian and her marvellous beauty,
and of floating with her here and there through the night,
made brilliant by her songs and stories; he might not forget the
charm of her manner, the lightness of her laugh, the flattery of
her attention, the warmth of her little hand under his upon
the tiller of the boat. From her it was for his thought but
a short way to Balthasar, and the strange things of which he
had been witness, unaccountable by any law of nature; and from
him, again, to the King of the Jews, whom the good man, with such
pathos of patience, was holding in holy promise, the distance was
even nearer. And there his mind stayed, finding in the mysteries
of that personage a satisfaction answering well for the rest he
was seeking. Because, it may have been, nothing is so easy as
denial of an idea not agreeable to our wishes, he rejected the
definition given by Balthasar of the kingdom the king was coming to
establish. A kingdom of souls, if not intolerable to his Sadducean
faith, seemed to him but an abstraction drawn from the depths of
a devotion too fond and dreamy. A kingdom of Judea, on the other
hand, was more than comprehensible: such had been, and, if only
for that reason, might be again. And it suited his pride to think
of a new kingdom broader of domain, richer in power, and of a more
unapproachable splendor than the old one; of a new king wiser and
mightier than Solomon--a new king under whom, especially, he could
find both service and revenge. In that mood he resumed to the dowar.
The mid-day meal disposed of, still further to occupy himself,
Ben-Hur had the chariot rolled out into the sunlight for inspection.
The word but poorly conveys the careful study the vehicle underwent.
No point or part of it escaped him. With a pleasure which will be
better understood hereafter, he saw the pattern was Greek, in his
judgment preferable to the Roman in many respects; it was wider
between the wheels, and lower and stronger, and the disadvantage
of greater weight would be more than compensated by the greater
endurance of his Arabs. Speaking generally, the carriage-makers
of Rome built for the games almost solely, sacrificing safety to
beauty, and durability to grace; while the chariots of Achilles
and "the king of men," designed for war and all its extreme tests,
still ruled the tastes of those who met and struggled for the crowns
Isthmian and Olympic.
Next he brought the horses, and, hitching them to the chariot,
drove to the field of exercise, where, hour after hour, he practised
them in movement under the yoke. When he came away in the evening,
it was with restored spirit, and a fixed purpose to defer action
in the matter of Messala until the race was won or lost. He could
not forego the pleasure of meeting his adversary under the eyes of
the East; that there might be other competitors seemed not to enter
his thought. His confidence in the result was absolute; no doubt of
his own skill; and as to the four, they were his full partners in
the glorious game.
"Let him look to it, let him look to it! Ha, Antares--Aldebaran!
Shall he not, O honest Rigel? and thou, Atair, king among coursers,
shall he not beware of us? Ha, ha! good hearts!"
So in rests he passed from horse to horse, speaking, not as a
master, but the senior of as many brethren.
After nightfall, Ben-Hur sat by the door of the tent waiting for
Ilderim, not yet returned from the city. He was not impatient,
or vexed, or doubtful. The sheik would be heard from, at least.
Indeed, whether it was from satisfaction with the performance of
the four, or the refreshment there is in cold water succeeding
bodily exercise, or supper partaken with royal appetite, or the
reaction which, as a kindly provision of nature, always follows
depression, the young man was in good-humor verging upon elation.
He felt himself in the hands of Providence no longer his enemy. At
last there was a sound of horse's feet coming rapidly, and Malluch
"Son of Arrius," he said, cheerily, after salutation, "I salute
you for Sheik Ilderim, who requests you to mount and go to the
city. He is waiting for you."
Ben-Hur asked no questions, but went in where the horses were
feeding. Aldebaran came to him, as if offering his service.
He played with him lovingly, but passed on, and chose another,
not of the four--they were sacred to the race. Very shortly the
two were on the road, going swiftly and in silence.
Some distance below the Seleucian Bridge, they crossed the river
by a ferry, and, riding far round on the right bank, and recrossing
by another ferry, entered the city from the west. The detour was
long, but Ben-Hur accepted it as a precaution for which there was
Down to Simonides' landing they rode, and in front of the great
warehouse, under the bridge, Malluch drew rein.
"We are come," he said. "Dismount."
Ben-Hur recognized the place.
"Where is the sheik?" he asked.
"Come with me. I will show you."
A watchman took the horses, and almost before he realized it Ben-Hur
stood once more at the door of the house up on the greater one,
listening to the response from within--"In God's name, enter."