About the time the couriers departed from Messala's door with the despatches (it being yet the early morning hour), Ben-Hur entered Ilderim'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?|
|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?|
|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.
|Simonides to Sheik Ilderim.
|Assure thyself first of a place in my inner heart.
|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 to Sheik Ilderim.
|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,
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.