Her hand dropped lightly upon his forehead, and the fingers caught in his hair and lingered there lovingly, while her eyes sought the highest stars in view. Her pride responded to his, not merely in echo, but in the unison of perfect sympathy. She would answer him; at the same time, not for the world would she have had the answer unsatisfactory; an admission of inferiority might weaken his spirit for life. She faltered with misgivings of her own powers.
“What you propose, O my Judah, is not a subject for treatment by a woman. Let me put its consideration off till to-morrow, and I will have the wise Simeon- ”
“Do not send me to the Rector,” he said, abruptly.
“I will have him come to us.”
“No, I seek more than information; while he might give me that better than you, O my mother, you can do better by giving me what he cannot- the resolution which is the soul of a man’s soul.”
She swept the heavens with a rapid glance, trying to compass all the meaning of his questions.
“While craving justice for ourselves, it is never wise to be unjust to others. To deny valour in the enemy we have conquered is to underrate our victory; and if the enemy be strong enough to hold us at bay, much more to conquer us”- she hesitated- “self-respect bids us seek some other explanation of our misfortunes than accusing him of qualities inferior to our own.”
Thus speaking to herself rather than to him, she began- “Take heart, O my son. The Messala is nobly descended; his family has been illustrious through many generations. In the days of Republican Rome- how far back I cannot tell- they were famous, some as soldiers, some as civilians. I can recall but one consul of the name; their rank was senatorial, and their patronage always sought because they were always rich. Yet if to-day your friend boasted of his ancestry, you might have shamed him by recounting yours. If he referred to the ages through which the line is traceable, or to deeds, rank, or wealth- such allusions, except when great occasion demands them, are tokens of small minds- if he mentioned them in proof of his superiority, then without dread, and standing on each particular, you might have challenged him to a comparison of records.”
Taking a moment’s thought, the mother proceeded: “One of the ideas of fast hold now is that time has much to do with the nobility of races and families. A Roman boasting his superiority on that account over a son of Israel will always fail when put to the proof. The founding of Rome was his beginning; the very best of them cannot trace their descent beyond that period: few of them pretend to do so; and of such as do, I say not one could make good his claim except by resort to tradition. Messala certainly could not. Let us look now to ourselves. Could we better?”