“What says Simonides?” asked Ben-Hur.

“The master laughs, and is well pleased. If the Roman pays, he is ruined; if he refuses to pay, he is dishonoured. The imperial policy will decide the matter. To offend the East would be a bad beginning with the Parthians; to offend Sheik Ilderim would be to antagonize the desert, over which lie all Maxentius’s lines of operation. Wherefore Simonides bade me tell you to have no disquiet; Messala will pay.”

Ilderim was at once restored to his good-humour.

“Let us be off now,” he said, rubbing his hands. “The business will do well with Simonides. The glory is ours. I will order the horses.”

“Stay,” said Malluch. “I left a messenger outside. Will you see him?”

“By the splendour of God! I forgot him.”

Malluch retired, and was succeeded by a lad of gentle manners and delicate appearance, who knelt upon one knee, and said, winningly, “Iras, the daughter of Balthasar, well known to good Sheik Ilderim, hath intrusted me with a message to the sheik, who, she saith, will do her great favour so he receive her congratulations on account of the victory of his four.”

“The daughter of my friend is kind,” said Ilderim, with sparkling eyes. “Do thou give her this jewel, in sign of the pleasure I have from her message.”

He took a ring from his finger as he spoke.

“I will as thou sayest, O sheik,” the lad replied, and continued, “The daughter of the Egyptian charged me further. She prays the good Sheik Ilderim to send word to the youth Ben-Hur that her father hath taken residence for a time in the palace of Idernee, where she will receive the youth after the fourth hour to-morrow. And if, with her congratulations, Sheik Ilderim will accept her gratitude for this other favour done, she will be ever so pleased.”

The sheik looked at Ben-Hur, whose face was suffused with pleasure.

“What will you?” he asked.

“By your leave, O sheik, I will see the fair Egyptian.”

Ilderim laughed, and said, “Shall not a man enjoy his youth?”

Then Ben-Hur answered the messenger- “Say to her who sent you that I, Ben-Hur, will see her at the palace of Idernee, wherever that may be, to-morrow at noon.”

The lad arose, and, with silent salute, departed.

At midnight Ilderim took the road, having arranged to leave a horse and a guide for Ben-Hur, who was to follow him.


CHAPTER XVI.

IN THE PALACE OF IDERNEE.

GOING next day to fill his appointment with Iras, Ben-Hur turned from the Omphalus, which was in the heart of the city, into the Colonnade of Herod, and came shortly to the palace of Idernee.

From the street he passed first into a vestibule, on the sides of which were stairways under cover, leading up to a portico. Winged lions sat by the stairs; in the middle there was a gigantic ibis spouting water over the floor; the lions, ibis, walls, and floor were reminders of the Egyptians: everything, even the balustrading of the stairs, was of massive grey stone.