“They are not dead,” he said, after reflection; “they are not dead, or he would have heard of it.”
A second reading, more careful than the first, confirmed him in the opinion. Then he sent for the sheik.
“In coming to your hospitable tent, O sheik,” he said, calmly, when the Arab was seated and they were alone, “it was not in my mind to speak of myself further than to assure you I had sufficient training to be intrusted with your horses. I declined to tell you my history. But the chances which have sent this paper to my hand and given it to me to be read are so strange that I feel bidden to trust you with everything. And I am the more inclined to do so by knowledge here conveyed that we are both of us threatened by the same enemy, against whom it is needful that we make common cause. I will read the letter and give you explanation; after which you will not wonder I was so moved. If you thought me weak or childish, you will then excuse me.”
The sheik held his peace, listening closely, until Ben-Hur came to the paragraph in which he was particularly mentioned- “‘I saw the Jew yesterday in the Grove of Daphne;'” so ran the part, “‘and if he be not there now, he is certainly in the neighbourhood, making it easy for me to keep him in eye. Indeed, were thou to ask me where he is now, I should say, with the most positive assurance, he is to be found at the old Orchard of Palms.'”
“A- h!” exclaimed Ilderim, in such a tone one might hardly say he was more surprised than angry; at the same time, he clutched his beard.
“‘At the old Orchard of Palms,'” Ben-Hur repeated, “‘under the tent of the traitor Sheik Ilderim.'”
“Traitor!- I?” the old man cried, in his shrillest tone, while lip and beard curled with ire, and on his forehead and neck the veins swelled and beat as they would burst.
“Yet a moment, sheik,” said Ben-Hur, with a deprecatory gesture. “Such is Messala’s opinion of you. Hear his threat.” And he read on- “‘under the tent of the traitor Sheik Ilderim, who cannot long escape our strong hand. Be not surprised if Maxentius, as his first measure, places the Arab on ship for forwarding to Rome.'”
“To Rome! Me- Ilderim- sheik of ten thousand horsemen with spears- me to Rome!”
He leaped rather than rose to his feet, his arms outstretched, his fingers spread and curved like claws, his eyes glittering like a serpent’s.
“O God!- nay, by all the gods except of Rome!- when shall this insolence end? A freeman am I; free are my people. Must we die slaves? Or, worse, must I live a dog, crawling to a master’s feet? Must I lick his hand lest he lash me? What is mine is not mine; I am not my own; for breath of body I must be beholden to a Roman. Oh, if I were young again! Oh, could I shake off twenty years- or ten- or five!”