He clapped his hands.
“Bring me the records of the tribe,” he said to the servant who responded.
While waiting, the sheik played with the horses, patting their cheeks, combing their forelocks with his fingers, giving each one a token of remembrance. Presently six men appeared with chests of cedar reinforced by bands of brass, and hinged and bolted with brass.
“Nay,” said Ilderim, when they were all set down by the divan, “I meant not all of them; only the records of the horses- that one. Open it and take back the others.”
The chest was opened, disclosing a mass of ivory tablets strung on rings of silver wire; and as the tablets were scarcely thicker than wafers, each ring held several hundreds of them.
“I know,” said Ilderim, taking some of the rings in his hand- “I know with what care and zeal, my son, the scribes of the Temple in the Holy City keep the names of the newly born, that every son of Israel may trace his line of ancestry to its beginning, though it antedate the patriarchs. My fathers- may the recollection of them be green forever!- did not think it sinful to borrow the idea, and apply it to their dumb servants. See these tablets!”
Ben-Hur took the rings, and separating the tablets saw they bore rude hieroglyphs in Arabic, burned on the smooth surface by a sharp point of heated metal.
“Canst thou read them, O son of Israel?”
“No. Thou must tell me their meaning.”
“Know thou, then, each tablet records the name of a foal of the pure blood born to my fathers through the hundreds of years passed; and also the names of sire and dam. Take them, and note their age, that thou mayst the more readily believe.”
Some of the tablets were nearly worn away. All were yellow with age.
“In the chest there, I can tell thee now, I have the perfect history; perfect because certified as history seldom is- showing of what stock all these are sprung- this one, and that now supplicating thy notice and caress; and as they come to us here, their sires, even the furthest removed in time, came to my sires, under a tent-roof like this of mine, to eat their measure of barley from the open hand, and be talked to as children; and as children kiss the thanks they have not speech to express. And now, O son of Israel, thou mayst believe my declaration- if I am a lord of the desert, behold my ministers! Take them from me, and I become as a sick man left by the caravan to die. Thanks to them, age hath not diminished the terror of me on the highways between cities; and it will not while I have strength to go with them. Ha, ha, ha! I could tell thee marvels done by their ancestors. In a favouring time I may do so; for the present, enough that they were never overtaken in retreat; nor, by the sword of Solomon, did they ever fail in pursuit! That, mark you, on the sands and under saddle; but now- I do not know- I am afraid, for they are under yoke the first time, and the conditions of success are so many. They have the pride and the speed and the endurance. If I find them a master, they will win. Son of Israel! so thou art the man, I swear it shall be a happy day that brought thee hither. Of thyself now speak.”