“Sheik Ilderim,” said Ben-Hur, calmly enduring his gaze, “I pray thee not to think me trifling with thy just demand; but was there never a time in thy life when to answer such a question would have been a crime to thyself?”
“By the splendour of Solomon, yes!” Ilderim answered. “Betrayal of self is at times as base as the betrayal of a tribe.”
“Thanks, thanks, good sheik!” Ben-Hur exclaimed. “Never answer became thee better. Now I know thou dost but seek assurance to justify the trust I have come to ask, and that such assurance is of more interest to thee than the affairs of my poor life.”
The sheik in his turn bowed, and Ben-Hur hastened to pursue his advantage.
“So it please thee then,” he said, “first, I am not a Roman, as the name given thee as mine implieth.”
Ilderim clasped the beard overflowing his breast, and gazed at the speaker with eyes faintly twinkling through the shade of the heavy close-drawn brows.
“In the next place,” Ben-Hur continued, “I am an Israelite of the tribe of Judah.”
The sheik raised his brows a little.
“Nor that merely. Sheik, I am a Jew with a grievance against Rome compared with which thine is not more than a child’s trouble.”
The old man combed his beard with nervous haste, and let fall his brows until even the twinkle of the eyes went out.
“Still further: I swear to thee, Sheik Ilderim- I swear by the covenant the Lord made with my fathers- so thou but give me the revenge I seek, the money and the glory of the race shall be thine.”
Ilderim’s brows relaxed; his head arose; his face began to beam; and it was almost possible to see the satisfaction taking possession of him.
“Enough!” he said. “If at the roots of thy tongue there is a lie in coil, Solomon himself had not been safe against thee. That thou art not a Roman- that as a Jew thou hast a grievance against Rome, and revenge to compass, I believe; and on that score enough. But as to thy skill. What experience hast thou in racing with chariots? And the horses- canst thou make them creatures of thy will?- to know thee? to come at call? to go, if thou sayest it, to the last extreme of breath and strength? and then, in the perishing moment, out of the depths of thy life thrill them to one exertion the mightiest of all? The gift, my son, is not to every one. Ah, by the splendour of God! I knew a king who governed millions of men, their perfect master, but could not win the respect of a horse. Mark! I speak not of the dull brutes whose round it is to slave for slaves- the debased in blood and image- the dead in spirit; but of such as mine here- the kings of their kind; of a lineage reaching back to the broods of the first Pharaoh; my comrades and friends, dwellers in tents, whom long association with me has brought up to my plane; who to their instincts have added our wits, and. to their senses joined our souls, until they feel all we know of ambition, love, hate, and contempt; in war, heroes; in trust, faithful as women. Ho, there!”