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CHAPTER XV



Ben-Hur tarried across the river with Ilderim; for at midnight,
as previously determined, they would take the road which the
caravan, then thirty hours out, had pursued.

The sheik was happy; his offers of gifts had been royal; but Ben-Hur
had refused everything, insisting that he was satisfied with the
humiliation of his enemy. The generous dispute was long continued.

"Think," the sheik would say, "what thou hast done for me. In every
black tent down to the Akaba and to the ocean, and across to the
Euphrates, and beyond to the sea of the Scythians, the renown of
my Mira and her children will go; and they who sing of them will
magnify me, and forget that I am in the wane of life; and all the
spears now masterless will come to me, and my sword-hands multiply
past counting. Thou dost not know what it is to have sway of the
desert such as will now be mine. I tell thee it will bring tribute
incalculable from commerce, and immunity from kings. Ay, by the
sword of Solomon! doth my messenger seek favor for me of Caesar,
that will he get. Yet nothing--nothing?"

And Ben-Hur would answer,

"Nay, sheik, have I not thy hand and heart? Let thy increase of
power and influence inure to the King who comes. Who shall say
it was not allowed thee for him? In the work I am going to, I may
have great need. Saying no now will leave me to ask of thee with
better grace hereafter."

In the midst of a controversy of the kind, two messengers arrived--Malluch
and one unknown. The former was admitted first.

The good fellow did not attempt to hide his joy over the event of
the day.

"But, coming to that with which I am charged," he said, "the master
Simonides sends me to say that, upon the adjournment of the games,
some of the Roman faction made haste to protest against payment of
the money prize."

Ilderim started up, crying, in his shrillest tones,

"By the splendor of God! the East shall decide whether the race
was fairly won."

"Nay, good sheik," said Malluch, "the editor has paid the money."

"'Tis well."

"When they said Ben-Hur struck Messala's wheel, the editor laughed,
and reminded them of the blow the Arabs had at the turn of the goal."

"And what of the Athenian?"

"He is dead."

"Dead!" cried Ben-Hur.

"Dead!" echoed Ilderim. "What fortune these Roman monsters have!
Messala escaped?"

"Escaped--yes, O sheik, with life; but it shall be a burden to
him. The physicians say he will live, but never walk again."

Ben-Hur looked silently up to heaven. He had a vision of Messala,
chairbound like Simonides, and, like him, going abroad on the
shoulders of servants. The good man had abode well; but what
would this one with his pride and ambition?

"Simonides bade me say, further," Malluch continued, "Sanballat is
having trouble. Drusus, and those who signed with him, referred the
question of paying the five talents they lost to the Consul Maxentius,
and he has referred it to Caesar. Messala also refused his losses,
and Sanballat, in imitation of Drusus, went to the consul, where the
matter is still in advisement. The better Romans say the protestants
shall not be excused; and all the adverse factions join with them.
The city rings with the scandal."

"What says Simonides?" asked Ben-Hur.

"The master laughs, and is well pleased. If the Roman pays, he
is ruined; if he refuses to pay, he is dishonored. The imperial
policy will decide the matter. To offend the East would be a bad
beginning with the Parthians; to offend Sheik Ilderim would be
to antagonize the Desert, over which lie all Maxentius's lines
of operation. Wherefore Simonides bade me tell you to have no
disquiet; Messala will pay."

Ilderim was at once restored to his good-humor.

"Let us be off now," he said, rubbing his hands. "The business will
do well with Simonides. The glory is ours. I will order the horses."

"Stay," said Malluch. "I left a messenger outside. Will you see
him?"

"By the splendor of God! I forgot him."

Malluch retired, and was succeeded by a lad of gentle manners and
delicate appearance, who knelt upon one knee, and said, winningly,
"Iras, the daughter of Balthasar, well known to good Sheik Ilderim,
hath intrusted me with a message to the sheik, who, she saith,
will do her great favor so he receive her congratulations on
account of the victory of his four."

"The daughter of my friend is kind," said Ilderim, with sparkling
eyes. "Do thou give her this jewel, in sign of the pleasure I have
from her message."

He took a ring from his finger as he spoke.

"I will as thou sayest, O sheik," the lad replied, and continued,
"The daughter of the Egyptian charged me further. She prays the
good Sheik Ilderim to send word to the youth Ben-Hur that her
father hath taken residence for a time in the palace of Idernee,
where she will receive the youth after the fourth hour to-morrow.
And if, with her congratulations, Sheik Ilderim will accept her
gratitude for this other favor done, she will be ever so pleased."

The sheik looked at Ben-Hur, whose face was suffused with pleasure.

"What will you?" he asked.

"By your leave, O sheik, I will see the fair Egyptian."

Ilderim laughed, and said, "Shall not a man enjoy his youth?"

Then Ben-Hur answered the messenger.

"Say to her who sent you that I, Ben-Hur, will see her at the palace
of Idernee, wherever that may be, to-morrow at noon."

The lad arose, and, with silent salute, departed.

At midnight Ilderim took the road, having arranged to leave a
horse and a guide for Ben-Hur, who was to follow him.





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