“Jove with us!” screamed Drusus, frantically.
“He wins! Jove with us!” answered his associates, seeing Messala speed on.
Tablet in hand, Sanballat turned to them; a crash from the course below stopped his speech, and he could not but look that way.
Messala having passed, the Corinthian was the only contestant on the Athenian’s right, and to that side the latter tried to turn his broken four; and then, as ill-fortune would have it, the wheel of the Byzantine, who was next on the left, struck the tail-piece of his chariot, knocking his feet from under him. There was a crash, a scream of rage and fear, and the unfortunate Cleanthes fell under the hoofs of his own steeds: a terrible sight, against which Esther covered her eyes.
On swept the Corinthian, on the Byzantine, on the Sidonian.
Sanballat looked for Ben-Hur, and turned again to Drusus and his coterie.
“A hundred sestertii on the Jew!” he cried.
“Taken!” answered Drusus.
“Another hundred on the Jew!” shouted Sanballat.
Nobody appeared to hear him. He called again; the situation below was too absorbing, and they were too busy shouting, “Messala! Messala! Jove with us!”
When the Jewess ventured to look again, a party of workmen were removing the horses and broken car; another party were taking off the man himself; and every bench upon which there was a Greek was vocal with execrations and prayers for vengeance. Suddenly she dropped her hands; Ben-Hur, unhurt, was to the front, coursing freely forward along with the Roman! Behind them, in a group, followed the Sidonian, the Corinthian, and the Byzantine.
The race was on; the souls of the racers were in it; over them bent the myriads.
WHEN the dash for position began, Ben-Hur, as we have seen, was on the extreme left of the six. For a moment, like the others, he was half-blinded by the light in the arena; yet he managed to catch sight of his antagonists and divine their purpose. At Messala, who was more than an antagonist to him, he gave one searching look. The air of passionless hauteur characteristic of the fine patrician face was there as of old, and so was the Italian beauty, which the helmet rather increased; but more- it may have been a jealous fancy, or the effect of the brassy shadow in which the features were at the moment cast, still the Israelite thought he saw the soul of the man as through a glass, darkly: cruel, cunning, desperate; not so excited as determined- a soul in a tension of watchfulness and fierce resolve.
In a time not longer than was required to turn to his four again, Ben-Hur felt his own resolution harden to a like temper. At whatever cost, at all hazards, he would humble this enemy! Prize, friends, wagers, honour- everything that can be thought of as a possible interest in the race was lost in the one deliberate purpose. Regard for life even should not hold him back. Yet there was no passion on his part; no blinding rush of heated blood from heart to brain, and back again; no impulse to fling himself upon Fortune: he did not believe in Fortune; far otherwise. He had his plan, and, confiding in himself, he settled to the task never more observant, never more capable. The air about him seemed aglow with a renewed and perfect transparency.