"Enough!" he said. "If at the roots of thy tongue there is a lie in coil, Solomon himself had not been safe against thee. That thou art not a Roman--that as a Jew thou hast a grievance against Rome, and revenge to compass, I believe; and on that score enough. But as to thy skill. What experience hast thou in racing with chariots? And the horses--canst thou make them creatures of thy will?--to know thee? to come at call? to go, if thou sayest it, to the last extreme of breath and strength? and then, in the perishing moment, out of the depths of thy life thrill them to one exertion the mightiest of all? The gift, my son, is not to every one. Ah, by the splendor of God! I knew a king who governed millions of men, their perfect master, but could not win the respect of a horse. Mark! I speak not of the dull brutes whose round it is to slave for slaves--the debased in blood and image--the dead in spirit; but of such as mine here--the kings of their kind; of a lineage reaching back to the broods of the first Pharaoh; my comrades and friends, dwellers in tents, whom long association with me has brought up to my plane; who to their instincts have added our wits and to their senses joined our souls, until they feel all we know of ambition, love, hate, and contempt; in war, heroes; in trust, faithful as women. Ho, there!"
The man drew aside part of the division curtain of the tent, exposing to view a group of horses, who lingered a moment where they were as if to make certain of the invitation.
"Come!" Ilderim said to them. "Why stand ye there? What have I that is not yours? Come, I say!"
"Son of Israel," the master said, "thy Moses was a mighty man, but--ha, ha ha!--I must laugh when I think of his allowing thy fathers the plodding ox and the dull, slow-natured ass, and forbidding them property in horses. Ha, ha, ha! Thinkest thou he would have done so had he seen that one--and that--and this?" At the word he laid his hand upon the face of the first to reach him, and patted it with infinite pride and tenderness.
"It is a misjudgment, sheik, a misjudgment," Ben-Hur said, warmly. "Moses was a warrior as well as a lawgiver beloved by God; and to follow war--ah, what is it but to love all its creatures--these among the rest?"
A head of exquisite turn--with large eyes, soft as a deer's, and half hidden by the dense forelock, and small ears, sharp-pointed and sloped well forward--approached then quite to his breast, the nostrils open, and the upper lip in motion. "Who are you?" it asked, plainly as ever man spoke. Ben-Hur recognized one of the four racers he had seen on the course, and gave his open hand to the beautiful brute.
"They will tell you, the blasphemers!--may their days shorten as they grow fewer!"--the sheik spoke with the feeling of a man repelling a personal defamation--"they will tell you, I say, that our horses of the best blood are derived from the Nesaean pastures of Persia. God gave the first Arab a measureless waste of sand, with some treeless mountains, and here and there a well of bitter waters; and said to him, 'Behold thy country!' And when the poor man complained, the Mighty One pitied him, and said again, 'Be of cheer! for I will twice bless thee above other men.' The Arab heard, and gave thanks, and with faith set out to find the blessings. He travelled all the boundaries first, and failed; then he made a path into the desert, and went on and on--and in the heart of the waste there was an island of green very beautiful to see; and in the heart of the island, lo! a herd of camels, and another of horses! He took them joyfully and kept them with care for what they were--best gifts of God. And from that green isle went forth all the horses of the earth; even to the pastures of Nesaea they went; and northward to the dreadful vales perpetually threshed by blasts from the Sea of Chill Winds. Doubt not the story; or if thou dost, may never amulet have charm for an Arab again. Nay, I will give thee proof."
"Bring me the records of the tribe," he said to the servant who responded.
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