“A camel, even a dog, will remember a wrong,” cried Ilderim.
Directly Simonides picked up the broken thread of his thought.
“There is a work, a work for the King, which should be done in advance of his coming. We may not doubt that Israel is to be his right hand; but, alas! it is a hand of peace, without cunning in war. Of the millions, there is not one trained band, not a captain. The mercenaries of the Herods I do not count, for they are kept to crush us. The condition is as the Roman would have it; his policy has fruited well for his tyranny; but the time of change is at hand, when the shepherd shall put on armour, and take to spear and sword, and the feeding flocks be turned to fighting lions. Some one, my son, must have place next the King at his right hand. Who shall it be if not he who does this work well?”
Ben-Hur’s face flushed at the prospect, though he said, “I see but speak plainly. A deed to be done is one thing; how to do it is another.”
Simonides sipped the wine Esther brought him, and replied, “The sheik, and thou, my master, shall be principals, each with a part. I will remain here, carrying on as now, and watchful that the spring go not dry. Thou shalt betake thee to Jerusalem, and thence to the wilderness, and begin numbering the fighting-men of Israel, and telling them into tens and hundreds, and choosing captains and training them, and in secret places hoarding arms, for which I shall keep thee supplied. Commencing over in Perea, thou shalt go then to Galilee, whence it is but a step to Jerusalem. In Perea, the desert will be at thy back, and Ilderim in reach of thy hand. He will keep the roads, so that nothing shall pass without thy knowledge. He will help thee in many ways. Until the ripening time no one shall know what is here contracted. Mine is but a servant’s part. I have spoken to Ilderim. What sayest thou?”
Ben-Hur looked at the sheik.
“It is as he says, son of Hur,” the Arab responded. “I have given my word, and he is content with it; but thou shalt have my oath, binding me, and the ready hands of my tribe, and whatever serviceable thing I have.”
The three- Simonides, Ilderim, Esther- gazed at Ben-Hur fixedly.
“Every man,” he answered, at first sadly, “has a cup of pleasure poured for him, and soon or late it comes to his hand, and he tastes and drinks- every man but me. I see, Simonides, and thou, O generous sheik!- I see whither the proposal tends. If I accept, and enter upon the course, farewell peace, and the hopes which cluster around it. The doors I might enter and the gates of quiet life will shut behind me, never to open again, for Rome keeps them all; and her outlawry will follow me, and her hunters; and in the tombs near cities and the dismal caverns of remotest hills, I must eat my crust and take my rest.”