"One thing more now, O Malluch. When will the celebration be?"
"Ah! your pardon," the other answered. "To-morrow--and the next day," he said, counting aloud, "then, to speak in the Roman style, if the sea-gods be propitious, the consul arrives. Yes, the sixth day from this we have the games."
"The time is short, Malluch, but it is enough." The last words were spoken decisively. "By the prophets of our old Israel! I will take to the reins again. Stay! a condition; is there assurance that Messala will be a competitor?"
Malluch saw now the plan, and all its opportunities for the humiliation of the Roman; and he had not been true descendant of Jacob if, with all his interest wakened, he had not rushed to a consideration of the chances. His voice actually trembled as he said, "Have you the practise?"
"Fear not, my friend. The winners in the Circus Maximus have held their crowns these three years at my will. Ask them--ask the best of them--and they will tell you so. In the last great games the emperor himself offered me his patronage if I would take his horses in hand and run them against the entries of the world."
"I--I am a Jew"--Ben-Hur seemed shrinking within himself as he spoke--"and, though I wear a Roman name, I dared not do professionally a thing to sully my father's name in the cloisters and courts of the Temple. In the palaestrae I could indulge practise which, if followed into the Circus, would become an abomination; and if I take to the course here, Malluch, I swear it will not be for the prize or the winner's fee."
"Hold--swear not so!" cried Malluch. "The fee is ten thousand sestertii--a fortune for life!"
"Not for me, though the prefect trebled it fifty times. Better than that, better than all the imperial revenues from the first year of the first Caesar--I will make this race to humble my enemy. Vengeance is permitted by the law."