CHAPTER VIII.

THE FOUNTAIN OF CASTALIA.

As Ben-Hur descended the steps of the stand, an Arab arose upon the last one at the foot, and cried out, “Men of the East and West- hearken! The good Sheik Ilderim giveth greeting. With four horses, sons of the favourites of Solomon the Wise, he hath come up against the best. Needs he most a mighty man to drive them. Whoso will take them to his satisfaction, to him he promiseth enrichment forever. Here- there- in the city and in the Circuses, and wherever the strong most do congregate, tell ye this his offer. So saith my master, Sheik Ilderim the Generous.”

The proclamation awakened a great buzz among the people under the awning. By night it would be repeated and discussed in all the sporting circles of Antioch. Ben-Hur, hearing it, stopped and looked hesitatingly from the herald to the sheik. Malluch thought he was about to accept the offer, but was relieved when he presently turned to him, and asked, “Good Malluch, where to now?”

The worthy replied, with a laugh, “Would you liken yourself to others visiting the Grove for the first time, you will straightway to hear your fortune told.”

“My fortune, said you? Though the suggestion has in it a flavour of unbelief, let us to the goddess at once.”

“Nay, son of Arrius, these Apollonians have a better trick than that. Instead of speech with a Pythia or a Sibyl, they will sell you a plain papyrus leaf, hardly dry from the stalk, and bid you dip it in the water of a certain fountain, when it will show you a verse in which you may hear of your future.”

The glow of interest departed from Ben-Hur’s face.

“There are people who have no need to vex themselves about their future,” he said, gloomily.

“Then you prefer to go to the temples?”

“The temples are Greek, are they not?”

“They call them Greek.”

“The Hellenes were masters of the beautiful in art; but in architecture they sacrificed variety to unbending beauty. Their temples are all alike. How call you the fountain?”

“Castalia.”

“Oh! it has repute throughout the world. Let us thither.”

Malluch kept watch on his companion as they went, and saw that for the moment at least his good spirits were out. To the people passing he gave no attention; over the wonders they came upon there were no exclamations; silently, even sullenly, he kept a slow pace.

The truth was, the sight of Messala had set Ben-Hur to thinking. It seemed scarce an hour ago that the strong hands had torn him from his mother, scarce an hour ago that the Roman had put seal upon the gates of his father’s house. He recounted how, in the hopeless misery of the life- if such it might be called- in the galleys, he had had little else to do, aside from labour, than dream dreams of vengeance, in all of which Messala was the principal. There might be, he used to say to himself, escape for Gratus, but for Messala- never! And to strengthen and harden his resolution, he was accustomed to repeat over and over, Who pointed us out to the persecutors? And when I begged him for help- not for myself- who mocked me, and went away laughing? And always the dream had the same ending. The day I meet him, help me, thou good God of my people!- help me to some fitting special vengeance! And now the meeting was at hand.