She paused as if to allow the hearer to measure the time comprehended in the statement.
“And now,” she continued, “what becomes of the Roman boast of blood enriched by ages? By that test the sons of Israel watching the herds on old Rephaim yonder are nobler than the noblest of the Marcii.”
“And I, mother- by the Books, who am I?”
“What I have said thus far, my son, had reference to your question. I will answer you. If Messala were here he might say, as others have said, that the exact trace of your lineage stopped when the Assyrian took Jerusalem, and razed the Temple, with alt its precious stores; but you might plead the pious action of Zerubbabel, and retort that all verity in Roman genealogy ended when the barbarians from the West took Rome, and camped six months upon her desolated site. Did the government keep family histories? If so, what became of them in those dreadful days? No, no; there is verity in our Books of Generations; and following them back to the Captivity, back to the foundation of the first Temple, back to the march from Egypt, we have absolute assurance that you are lineally sprung from Hur, the associate of Joshua. In the matter of descent sanctified by time, is not the honour perfect? Do you care to pursue further? If so, take the Torah, and search the Book of Numbers, and of the seventy-two generations after Adam, you can find the very progenitor of your house.”
There was silence for a time in the chamber on the roof.
“I thank you, O my mother,” Judah next said, clasping both her hands in his; “I thank you with all my heart. I was right in not having the good rector called in; he could not have satisfied me more than you have. Yet to make a family truly noble, is time alone sufficient?”
“Ah, you forget, you forget; our claim rests not merely upon time; the Lord’s preference is our especial glory.”
“You are speaking of the race, and I, mother, of the family- our family. In the years since Father Abraham, what have they achieved? What have they done? What great things to lift them above the level of their fellows?”
She hesitated, thinking she might all this time have mistaken his object. The information he sought might have been for more than satisfaction of wounded vanity. Youth is but the painted shell within which, continually growing, lives that wondrous thing, the spirit of a man, biding its moment of apparition, earlier in some than in others. She trembled under a perception that this might be the supreme moment come to him; that as children at birth reach out their untried hands grasping for shadows, and crying the while, so his spirit might, in temporary blindness, be struggling to take hold of its impalpable future. They to whom a boy comes asking, Who am I, and what am I to be? have need of ever so much care. Each word in answer may prove to the after-life what each finger-touch of the artist is to the clay he is modelling.