“Fear not, my friend. The winners in the Circus Maximus have held their crowns these three years at my will. Ask them- ask the best of them, and they will tell you so. In the last great games the emperor himself offered me his patronage if I would take his horses in hand and run them against the entries of the world.”
“But you did not?”
Malluch spoke eagerly.
“I- I am a Jew”- Ben-Hur seemed shrinking within himself as he spoke- “and, though I wear a Roman name, I dared not do professionally a thing to sully my father’s name in the cloisters and courts of the Temple. In the palaestrae I could indulge practice which, if followed into the circus, would become an abomination; and if I take to the course here, Malluch, I swear it will not be for the prize or the winner’s fee.”
“Hold- swear not so!” cried Malluch. “The fee is ten thousand sestertii- a fortune for life!”
“Not for me, though the prefect trebled it fifty times. Better than that, better than all the imperial revenues from the first year of the first Caesar- I will make this race to humble my enemy. Vengeance is permitted by the law.”
Malluch smiled and nodded as if saying, “Right, right- trust me a Jew to understand a Jew.”
“The Messala will drive,” he said, directly. “He is committed to the race in many ways- by publication in the streets, and in the baths and theatres, the palace and barracks; and, to fix him past retreat, his name is on the tablets of every young spendthrift in Antioch.”
“In wager, Malluch?”
“Yes, in wager; and every day he comes ostentatiously to practise, as you saw him.”
“Ah! and that is the chariot, and those the horses, with which he will make the race? Thank you, thank you, Malluch! You have served me well already. I am satisfied. Now be my guide to the Orchard of Palms, and give me introduction to Sheik Ilderim the Generous.”
“To-day. His horses may be engaged to-morrow.”
“You like them, then?”
Ben-Hur answered with animation- “I saw them from the stand an instant only, for Messala then drove up, and I might not look at anything else; yet I recognized them as of the blood which is the wonder as well as the glory of the deserts. I never saw the kind before, except in the stables of Caesar; but once seen they are always to be known. To-morrow, upon meeting, I will know you, Malluch, though you do not so much as salute me; I will know you by your face, by your form, by your manner; and by the same signs I will know them, and with the same certainty. If all that is said of them be true, and I can bring their spirit under control of mine, I can- ”
“Win the sestertii!” said Malluch, laughing.