“I know now,” said Ben-Hur, “why it is that in the love of an Arab his horse is next to his children; and I know, also, why the Arab horses are the best in the world; but, good sheik, I would not have you judge me by words alone; for, as you know, all promises of men sometimes fail. Give me the trial first on some plain hereabout, and put the four into my hand to-morrow.”

Ilderim’s face beamed again, and he would have spoken.

“A moment, good sheik, a moment!” said Ben-Hur. “Let me say further. From the masters in Rome I learned many lessons, little thinking they would serve me in a time like this. I tell thee these thy sons of the desert, though they have separately the speed of eagles and the endurance of lions, will fail if they are not trained to run together under the yoke. For bethink thee, sheik, in every four there is one the slowest and one the swiftest; and while the race is always to the slowest, the trouble is always with the swiftest. It was so to-day; the driver could not reduce the best to harmonious action with the poorest. My trial may have no better result; but if so, I will tell thee of it: that I swear. Wherefore, in the same spirit I say, can I get them to run together, moved by my will, the four as one, thou shalt have the sistertii and the crown, and I my revenge. What sayest thou?”

Ilderim listened, combing his beard the while. At the end he said, with a laugh, “I think better of thee, son of Israel. We have a saying in the desert, ‘If you will cook the meal with words, I will promise an ocean of butter.’ Thou shalt have the horses in the morning.”

At that moment there was a stir at the rear entrance to the tent.

“The supper- it is here! and yonder my friend Balthasar, whom thou shalt know. He hath a story to tell which an Israelite should never tire of hearing.”

And to the servants he added, “Take the records away, and return my jewels to their apartment.”

And they did as he ordered.


CHAPTER XIV.

THE DOWAR IN THE ORCHARD OF PALMS.

IF the reader will return now to the repast of the wise men at their meeting in the desert, he will understand the preparations for the supper in Ilderim’s tent. The differences were chiefly such as were incident to ampler means and better service.

Three rugs were spread on the carpet within the space so nearly enclosed by the divan; a table not more than a foot in height was brought and set within the same place, and covered with a cloth. Off to one side a portable earthenware oven was established under the presidency of a woman whose duty it was to keep the company in bread, or, more precisely, in hot cakes of flour from the hand-mills grinding with constant sound in a neighbouring tent.