His language and attire bespoke him a Roman.
What he could not read, he yet could speak; so the old Arab answered, with dignity, “I am Sheik Ilderim.”
The man’s eyes fell; he raised them again, and said, with forced composure, “I heard you had need of a driver for the games.”
Ilderim’s lip under the white moustache curled contemptuously.
“Go thy way,” he said. “I have a driver.”
He turned to ride away, but the man, lingering, spoke again.
“Sheik, I am a lover of horses, and they say you have the most beautiful in the world.”
The old man was touched; he drew rein, as if on the point of yielding to the flattery, but finally replied, “Not to-day, not to-day; some other time I will show them to you. I am too busy just now.”
He rode to the field, while the stranger betook himself to town again, with a smiling countenance. He had accomplished his mission.
And every day thereafter, down to the great day of the games, a man- sometimes two or three men- came to the sheik at the Orchard, pretending to seek an engagement as driver.
In such manner Messala kept watch over Ben-Hur.
ILDERIM AND BEN-HUR DELIBERATE.
THE sheik waited, well satisfied, until Ben-Hur drew his horses off the field for the forenoon- well satisfied, for he had seen them, after being put through all the other paces, run full speed in such manner that it did not seem there were one the slowest and another the fastest- run, in other words, as the four were one.
“This afternoon, O sheik, I will give Sirius back to you.” Ben-Hur patted the neck of the old horse as he spoke. “I will give him back, and take to the chariot.”
“So soon?” Ilderim asked.
“With such as these, good sheik, one day suffices. They are not afraid; they have a man’s intelligence, and they love the exercise. This one,” he shook a rein over the back of the youngest of the four- “you called him Aldebaran, I believe- is the swiftest; in once round a stadium he would lead the others thrice his length.”
Ilderim pulled his beard, and said, with twinkling eyes, “Aldebaran is the swiftest; but what of the slowest?”
“This is he.” Ben-Hur shook the rein over Antares. “This is he: but he will win, for, look you, sheik, he will run his utmost all day- all day; and, as the sun goes down, he will reach his swiftest.”
“Right again,” said Ilderim.
“I have but one fear, O sheik.”
The sheik became doubly serious.
“In his greed of triumph, a Roman cannot keep honour pure. In the games- all of them, mark you- their tricks are infinite; in chariot-racing their knavery extends to everything- from horse to driver, from driver to master. Wherefore, good sheik, look well to all thou hast; from this till the trial is over, let no stranger so much as see the horses. Would you be perfectly safe, do more- keep watch over them with armed hand as well as sleepless eye; then I will have no fear of the end.”