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 Cæsar, 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.”
“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 Cæsar. 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.