“Good sheik, tell me how you came by this letter.”
“My people keep the roads between cities,” Ilderim answered, bluntly. “They took it from a courier.”
“Are they known to be thy people?”
“No. To the world they are robbers, whom it is mine to catch and slay.”
“Again, sheik. You call me son of Hur- my father’s name. I did not think myself known to a person on earth. How came you by the knowledge?”
Ilderim hesitated; but, rallying, he answered, “I know you, yet I am not free to tell you more.”
“Some one holds you in restraint?”
The sheik closed his mouth, and walked away; but, observing Ben-Hur’s disappointment, he came back, and said, “Let us say no more about the matter now. I will go to town; when I return, I may talk to you fully. Give me the letter.”
Ilderim rolled the papyrus carefully, restored it to its envelope, and became once more all energy.
“What sayest thou?” he asked, while waiting for his horse and retinue. “I told what I would do, were I thou, and thou hast made no answer.
“I intended to answer, sheik, and I will.” Ben-Hur’s countenance and voice changed with the feeling invoked. “All thou hast said, I will do- all at least in the power of a man. I devoted myself to vengeance long ago. Every hour of the five years passed, I have lived with no other thought. I have taken no respite. I have had no pleasures of youth. The blandishments of Rome were not for me. I wanted her to educate me for revenge. I resorted to her most famous masters and professors- not those of rhetoric or philosophy: alas! I had no time for them. The arts essential to a fighting-man were my desire. I associated with gladiators, and with winners of prizes in the circus; and they were my teachers. The drill-masters in the great camp accepted me as a scholar, and were proud of my attainments in their line. O sheik, I am a soldier; but the things of which I dream require me to be a captain. With that thought, I have taken part in the campaign against the Parthians; when it is over, then, if the Lord spare my life and strength- then”- he raised his clenched hands, and spoke vehemently- “then I will be an enemy Roman-taught in all things; then Rome shall account to me in Roman lives for her ills. You have my answer, sheik.”
Ilderim put an arm over his shoulder, and kissed him, saying, passionately, “If thy God favour thee not, son of Hur, it is because he is dead. Take thou this from me- sworn to, if so thy preference run: thou shalt have my hands, and their fulness- men, horses, camels, and the desert for preparation. I swear it! For the present, enough. Thou shalt see or hear from me before night.”