As the four stout servants carried the merchant in his chair up the aisle, curiosity was much excited. Presently some one called his name. Those about caught it and passed it on along the benches to the west; and there was hurried climbing on seats to get sight of the man about whom common report had coined and put in circulation a romance so mixed of good fortune and bad that the like had never been known or heard of before.
Ilderim was also recognized and warmly greeted; but nobody knew Balthasar or the two women who followed him closely veiled.
The people made way for the party respectfully, and the ushers seated them in easy speaking distance of each other down by the balustrade overlooking the arena. In providence of comfort, they sat upon cushions and had stools for foot-rests.
The women were Iras and Esther.
Upon being seated, the latter cast a frightened look over the Circus, and drew the veil closer about her face; while the Egyptian, letting her veil fall upon her shoulders, gave herself to view, and gazed at the scene with the seeming unconsciousness of being stared at, which, in a woman, is usually the result of long social habitude.
The new-comers generally were yet making their first examination of the great spectacle, beginning with the consul and his attendants, when some workmen ran in and commenced to stretch a chalked rope across the arena from balcony to balcony in front of the pillars of the first goal.
About the same time, also, six men came in through the Porta Pompae and took post, one in front of each occupied stall; whereat there was a prolonged hum of voices in every quarter.
“See, see! The green goes to number four on the right; the Athenian is there.”
“And Messala- yes, he is number two.”
“The Corinthian- ”
“Watch the white! See, he crosses over- he stops; number one it is- number one on the left.”
“No, the black stops there, and the white at number two.”
“So it is.”
These gate-keepers, it should be understood, were dressed in tunics coloured like those of the competing charioteers; so, when they took their stations, everybody knew the particular stall in which his favourite was that moment waiting.
“Did you ever see Messala?” the Egyptian asked Esther.
The Jewess shuddered as she answered no. If not her father’s enemy, the Roman was Ben-Hur’s.
“He is beautiful as Apollo.”
As Iras spoke, her large eyes brightened and she shook her jewelled fan. Esther looked at her with the thought, “Is he, then, so much handsomer than Ben-Hur?” Next moment she heard Ilderim say to her father, “Yes, his stall is number two on the left of the Porta Pompae;” and, thinking it was of Ben-Hur he spoke, her eyes turned that way. Taking but the briefest glance at the wattled face of the gate, she drew the veil close and muttered a little prayer.