At the door of the tent they dismounted.
“What you say shall be attended to. By the splendour of God, no hand shall come near them except it belong to one of the faithful. To-night I will set watches. But, son of Arrius”- Ilderim drew forth the package, and opened it slowly, while they walked to the divan and seated themselves- “son of Arrius, see thou here, and help me with thy Latin.”
He passed the despatch to Ben-Hur.
“There; read- and read aloud, rendering what thou findest into the tongue of thy fathers. Latin is an abomination.”
Ben-Hur was in good spirits, and began the reading carelessly. “‘Messala to Gratus!'” He paused. A premonition drove the blood to his heart. Ilderim observed his agitation.
“Well; I am waiting.”
Ben-Hur prayed pardon, and recommenced the paper, which, it is sufficient to say, was one of the duplicates of the letter despatched so carefully to Gratus by Messala the morning after the revel in the palace.
The paragraphs in the beginning were remarkable only as proof that the writer had not outgrown his habit of mockery; when they were passed, and the reader came to the parts intended to refresh the memory of Gratus, his voice trembled, and twice he stopped to regain his self-control. By a strong effort he continued. “‘I recall further'” he read, “‘that thou didst make disposition of the family of Hur'”- there the reader again paused and drew a long breath- “‘both of us at the time supposing the plan hit upon to be the most effective possible for the purposes in view, which were silence and delivery over to inevitable but natural death.'”
Here Ben-Hur broke down utterly. The paper fell from his hands, and he covered his face.
“They are dead- dead. I alone am left.”
The sheik had been a silent, but not unsympathetic, witness of the young man’s suffering; now he arose and said, “Son of Arrius, it is for me to beg thy pardon. Read the paper by thyself. When thou art strong enough to give the rest of it to me, send word, and I will return.”
He went out of the tent, and nothing in all his life became him better.
Ben-Hur flung himself on the divan and gave way to his feelings. When somewhat recovered, he recollected that a portion of the letter remained unread, and, taking it up, he resumed the reading. “Thou wilt remember,” the missive ran, “what thou didst with the mother and sister of the malefactor; yet, if now I yield to a desire to learn if they be living or dead”- Ben-Hur started, and read again, and then again, and at last broke into exclamation. “He does not know they are dead; he does not know it! Blessed be the name of the Lord! there is yet hope.” He finished the sentence, and was strengthened by it, and went on bravely to the end of the letter.