Book Fifth

Chapter X

Lew Wallace

THE DAY before the games, in the afternoon, all Ilderim’s racing property was taken to the city, and put in quarters adjoining the Circus. Along with it the good man carried a great deal of property not of that class; so with servants, retainers mounted and armed, horses in leading, cattle driven, camels laden with baggage, his outgoing from the Orchard was not unlike a tribal migration. The people along the road failed not to laugh at his motley procession; on the other side, it was observed that, with all his irascibility, he was not in the least offended by their rudeness. If he was under surveillance, as he had reason to believe, the informer would describe the semi-barbarous show with which he came up to the races. The Romans would laugh; the city would be amused; but what cared he? Next morning the pageant would be far on the road to the desert, and going with it would be every movable thing of value belonging to the Orchard—everything save such as were essential to the success of his four. He was, in fact, started home; his tents were all folded; the dowar was no more; in twelve hours all would be out of reach, pursue who might. A man is never safer than when he is under the laugh; and the shrewd old Arab knew it.

Neither he nor Ben-Hur overestimated the influence of Messala; it was their opinion, however, that he would not begin active measures against them until after the meeting in the Circus; if defeated there, especially if defeated by Ben-Hur, they might instantly look for the worst he could do; he might not even wait for advices from Gratus. With this view, they shaped their course, and were prepared to betake themselves out of harm’s way. They rode together now in good spirits, calmly confident of success on the morrow.

On the way, they came upon Malluch in waiting for them. The faithful fellow gave no sign by which it was possible to infer any knowledge on his part of the relationship so recently admitted between Ben-Hur and Simonides, or of the treaty between them and Ilderim. He exchanged salutations as usual, and produced a paper, saying to the sheik, “I have here the notice of the editor of the games, just issued, in which you will find your horses published for the race. You will find in it also the order of exercises. Without waiting, good sheik, I congratulate you upon your victory.”

He gave the paper over, and, leaving the worthy to master it, turned to Ben-Hur.

“To you also, son of Arrius, my congratulations. There is nothing now to prevent your meeting Messala. Every condition preliminary to the race is complied with. I have the assurance from the editor himself.”

“I thank you, Malluch,” said Ben-Hur.

Malluch proceeded:

“Your color is white, and Messala’s mixed scarlet and gold. The good effects of the choice are visible already. Boys are now hawking white ribbons along the streets; tomorrow every Arab and Jew in the city will wear them. In the Circus you will see the white fairly divide the galleries with the red.”

“The galleries—but not the tribunal over the Porta Pompæ.”

“No; the scarlet and gold will rule there. But if we win”—Malluch chuckled with the pleasure of the thought—“if we win, how the dignitaries will tremble! They will bet, of course, according to their scorn of everything not Roman—two, three, five to one on Messala, because he is Roman.” Dropping his voice yet lower, he added, “It ill becomes a Jew of good standing in the Temple to put his money at such a hazard; yet, in confidence, I will have a friend next behind the consul’s seat to accept offers of three to one, or five, or ten—the madness may go to such height. I have put to his order six thousand shekels for the purpose.”

“Nay, Malluch,” said Ben-Hur, “a Roman will wager only in his Roman coin. Suppose you find your friend to-night, and place to his order sestertii in such amount as you choose. And look you, Malluch—let him be instructed to seek wagers with Messala and his supporters; Ilderim’s four against Messala’s.”

Malluch reflected a moment.

“The effect will be to centre interest upon your contest.”

“The very thing I seek, Malluch.”

“I see, I see.”

“Ay, Malluch; would you serve me perfectly, help me to fix the public eye upon our race—Messala’s and mine.”

Malluch spoke quickly—“It can be done.”

“Then let it be done,” said Ben-Hur.

“Enormous wagers offered will answer; if the offers are accepted, all the better.”

Malluch turned his eyes watchfully upon Ben-Hur.

“Shall I not have back the equivalent of his robbery?” said Ben-Hur, partly to himself. “Another opportunity may not come. And if I could break him in fortune as well as in pride! Our father Jacob could take no offence.”

A look of determined will knit his handsome face, giving emphasis to his further speech.

“Yes, it shall be. Hark, Malluch! Stop not in thy offer of sestertii. Advance them to talents, if any there be who dare so high. Five, ten, twenty talents; ay, fifty, so the wager be with Messala himself.”

“It is a mighty sum,” said Malluch. “I must have security.”

“So thou shalt. Go to Simonides, and tell him I wish the matter arranged. Tell him my heart is set on the ruin of my enemy, and that the opportunity hath such excellent promise that I choose such hazards. On our side be the God of our fathers. Go, good Malluch. Let this not slip.”

And Malluch, greatly delighted, gave him parting salutation, and started to ride away, but returned presently.

“Your pardon,” he said to Ben-Hur. “There was another matter. I could not get near Messala’s chariot myself, but I had another measure it; and, from his report, its hub stands quite a palm higher from the ground than yours.”

“A palm! So much?” cried Ben-Hur, joyfully.

Then he leaned over to Malluch.

“As thou art a son of Judah, Malluch, and faithful to thy kin, get thee a seat in the gallery over the Gate of Triumph, down close to the balcony in front of the pillars, and watch well when we make the turns there; watch well, for if I have favor at all, I will—Nay, Malluch, let it go unsaid! Only get thee there, and watch well.”

At that moment a cry burst from Ilderim.

“Ha! By the splendor of God! what is this?”

He drew near Ben-Hur with a finger pointing on the face of the notice.

“Read,” said Ben-Hur.

“No; better thou.”

Ben-Hur took the paper, which, signed by the prefect of the province as editor, performed the office of a modern programme, giving particularly the several divertisements provided for the occasion. It informed the public that there would be first a procession of extraordinary splendor; that the procession would be succeeded by the customary honors to the god Consus, whereupon the games would begin; running, leaping, wrestling, boxing, each in the order stated. The names of the competitors were given, with their several nationalities and schools of training, the trials in which they had been engaged, the prizes won, and the prizes now offered; under the latter head the sums of money were stated in illuminated letters, telling of the departure of the day when the simple chaplet of pine or laurel was fully enough for the victor, hungering for glory as something better than riches, and content with it.

Over these parts of the programme Ben-Hur sped with rapid eyes. At last he came to the announcement of the race. He read it slowly. Attending lovers of the heroic sports were assured they would certainly be gratified by an Orestean struggle unparalleled in Antioch. The city offered the spectacle in honor of the consul. One hundred thousand sestertii and a crown of laurel were the prizes. Then followed the particulars. The entries were six in all—fours only permitted; and, to further interest in the performance, the competitors would be turned into the course together. Each four then received description.

“I. A four of Lysippus the Corinthian—two grays, a bay, and a black; entered at Alexandria last year, and again at Corinth, where they were winners. Lysippus, driver. Color, yellow.

“II. A four of Messala of Rome—two white, two black; victors of the Circensian as exhibited in the Circus Maximus last year. Messala, driver. Colors, scarlet and gold.

“III. A four of Cleanthes the Athenian—three gray, one bay; winners at the Isthmian last year. Cleanthes, driver. Color, green.

“IV. A four of Dicaeus the Byzantine—two black, one gray, one bay; winners this year at Byzantium. Dicaeus, driver. Color, black.

“V. A four of Admetus the Sidonian—all grays. Thrice entered at Cæsarea, and thrice victors. Admetus, driver. Color, blue.

“VI. A four of Ilderim, sheik of the Desert. All bays; first race. Ben-Hur, a Jew, driver. Color, white.”

Ben-Hur, a Jew, Driver!

Why that name instead of Arrius?

Ben-Hur raised his eyes to Ilderim. He had found the cause of the Arab’s outcry. Both rushed to the same conclusion.

The hand was the hand of Messala!

Ben-Hur - Contents    |     Book Fifth - Chapter XI

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