He caught the listener’s arm again.
“And, Malluch, he knows and takes with him now the secret I would give my life for: he could tell if she lives, and where she is, and her condition; if she- no, they- much sorrow has made the two as one- if they are dead, he could tell where they died, and of what, and where their bones await my finding.”
“And will he not?”
“I am a Jew, and he is a Roman.”
“But Romans have tongues, and Jews, though ever so despised, have methods to beguile them.”
“For such as he? No; and, besides, the secret is one of state. All my father’s property was confiscated and divided.”
Malluch nodded his head slowly, much as to admit the argument; then he asked anew, “Did he not recognize you?”
“He could not. I was sent to death in life, and have been long since accounted of the dead.”
“I wonder you did not strike him,” said Malluch, yielding to a touch of passion.
“That would have been to put him past serving me forever. I would have had to kill him, and Death, you know, keeps secrets better even than a guilty Roman.”
The man who, with so much to avenge, could so calmly put such an opportunity aside must be confident of his future or have ready some better design, and Malluch’s interest changed with the thought; it ceased to be that of an emissary in duty bound to another. Ben-Hur was actually asserting a claim upon him for his own sake. In other words, Malluch was preparing to serve him with good heart and from downright admiration.
After brief pause, Ben-Hur resumed speaking.
“I would not take his life, good Malluch; against that extreme the possession of the secret is for the present, at least, his safeguard; yet I may punish him, and so you give me help, I will try.”
“He is a Roman,” said Malluch, without hesitation; “and I am of the tribe of Judah. I will help you. If you choose, put me under oath- under the most solemn oath.”
“Give me your hand, that will suffice.”
As their hands fell apart, Ben-Hur said, with lightened feeling, “That I would charge you with is not difficult, good friend; neither is it dreadful to conscience. Let us move on.”
They took the road which led to the right across the meadow spoken of in the description of the coming to the fountain. Ben-Hur was first to break the silence.
“Do you know Sheik Ilderim the Generous?”
“Where is his Orchard of Palms? or, rather, Malluch, how far is it beyond the village of Daphne?”
Malluch was touched by a doubt; he recalled the prettiness of the favour shown him by the woman at the fountain, and wondered if he who had the sorrows of a mother in mind was about to forget them for a lure of love; yet he replied, “The Orchard of Palms lies beyond the village two hours by horse, and one by a swift camel.”