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 Cæsarea.
“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.