Ilderim returned to the dowar next day about the third hour. As he dismounted, a man whom he recognized as of his own tribe came to him and said, |O sheik, I was bidden give thee this package, with request that thou read it at once. If there be answer, I was to wait thy pleasure.|
Ilderim gave the package immediate attention. The seal was already broken. The address ran, TO VALERIUS GRATUS AT CAESAREA.
|Abaddon take him!| growled the sheik, at discovering a letter in Latin.
Had the missive been in Greek or Arabic, he could have read it; as it was, the utmost he could make out was the signature in bold Roman letters -- MESSALA -- whereat his eyes twinkled.
|Where is the young Jew?| he asked.
|In the field with the horses,| a servant replied.
The sheik replaced the papyrus in its envelopes, and, tucking the package under his girdle, remounted the horse. That moment a stranger made his appearance, coming, apparently, from the city.
|I am looking for Sheik Ilderim, surnamed the Generous,| the stranger said.
His language and attire bespoke him a Roman.
What he could not read, he yet could speak; so the old Arab answered, with dignity, |I am Sheik Ilderim.|
The man's eyes fell; he raised them again, and said, with forced composure, |I heard you had need of a driver for the games.|
Ilderim's lip under the white mustache curled contemptuously.
|Go thy way,| he said. |I have a driver.|
He turned to ride away, but the man, lingering, spoke again.
|Sheik, I am a lover of horses, and they say you have the most beautiful in the world.|
The old man was touched; he drew rein, as if on the point of yielding to the flattery, but finally replied, |Not to-day, not to-day; some other time I will show them to you. I am too busy just now.|
He rode to the field, while the stranger betook himself to town again with a smiling countenance. He had accomplished his mission.
And every day thereafter, down to the great day of the games, a man -- sometimes two or three men -- came to the sheik at the Orchard, pretending to seek an engagement as driver.
In such manner Messala kept watch over Ben-Hur.