“Thank you; and to your knowledge once more. Have the games of which you told me been widely published? and when will they take place?”
The questions were suggestive; and if they did not restore Malluch his confidence, they at least stimulated his curiosity.
“Oh yes, they will be of ample splendour. The prefect is rich, and could afford to lose his place; yet, as is the way with successful men, his love of riches is nowise diminished; and to gain a friend at court, if nothing more, he must make ado for the Consul Maxentius, who is coming hither to make final preparations for a campaign against the Parthians. The money there is in the preparations the citizens of Antioch know from experience; so they have had permission to join the prefect in the honours intended for the great man. A month ago heralds went to the four quarters to proclaim the opening of the Circus for the celebration. The name of the prefect would be of itself good guarantee of variety and magnificence, particularly throughout the East; but when to his promises Antioch joins hers, all the islands and the cities by the sea stand assured of the extraordinary, and will be here in person or by their most famous professionals. The fees offered are royal.”
“And the Circus- I have heard it is second only to the Maximus.”
“At Rome, you mean. Well, ours seats two hundred thousand people, yours seats seventy-five thousand more; yours is of marble, so is ours; in arrangement they are exactly the same.”
“Are the rules the same?”
“If Antioch dared be original, son of Arrius, Rome would not be the mistress she is. The laws of the Circus Maximus govern except in one particular: there but four chariots may start at once, here all start without reference to number.”
“That is the practice of the Greeks,” said Ben-Hur.
“Yes, Antioch is more Greek than Roman.”
“So then, Malluch, I may choose my own chariot?”
“Your own chariot and horses. There is no restriction upon either.”
While replying, Malluch observed the thoughtful look on Ben-Hur’s face give place to one of satisfaction.
“One thing more now, O Malluch. When will the celebration be?”
“Ah! your pardon,” the other answered. “To-morrow- and the next day,” he said, counting aloud, “then, to speak in the Roman style, if the sea-gods be propitious, the consul arrives. Yes, the sixth day from this we have the games.”
“The time is short, Malluch, but it is enough.” The last words were spoken decisively. “By the prophets of our old Israel! I will take to the reins again. Stay! a condition; is there assurance that Messala will be a competitor?”
Malluch saw now the plan, and all its opportunities for the humiliation of the Roman; and he had not been true descendant of Jacob if, with all his interest wakened, he had not rushed to a consideration of the chances. His voice actually trembled as he said, “Have you the practice?”