Tirzah sank almost to the stones.
“Ah, yes!” she said, between sobs; “I forgot. I had the feeling of going home. But we are lepers, and have no homes; we belong to the dead!”
The mother stooped and raised her tenderly, saying, “We have nothing to fear. Let us go on.”
Indeed, lifting their empty hands, they could have run upon a legion and put it to flight.
And, creeping in close to the rough wall, they glided on, like two ghosts, till they came to the gate, before which they also paused. Seeing the board, they stepped upon the stone in the scarce cold tracks of Ben-Hur, and read the inscription- “This is the property of the Emperor.”
Then the mother clasped her hands, and, with upraised eyes, moaned in unutterable anguish.
“What now, mother? You scare me!”
And the answer was, presently, “Oh, Tirzah, the poor are dead! He is dead!”
“Who, mother?” “Your brother! They took everything from him- everything- even this house!”
“Poor!” said Tirzah, vacantly.
“He will never be able to help us.”
“And then, mother?”
“To-morrow, to-morrow, my child, we must find a seat by the wayside, and beg alms as the lepers do; beg, or- ”
Tirzah leaned upon her again, and said, whispering, “Let us- let us die!”
“No!” the mother said, firmly. “The Lord has appointed our times, and we are believers in the Lord. We will wait on him even in this. Come away!”
She caught Tirzah’s hand as, she spoke, and hastened to the west corner of the house, keeping close to the wall. No one being in sight there, they kept on to the next corner, and shrank from the moonlight, which lay exceedingly bright over the whole south front, and along a part of the street. The mother’s will was strong. Casting one look back and up to the windows on the west side, she stepped out into the light, drawing Tirzah after her; and the extent of their affliction was then to be seen- on their lips and cheeks, in their bleared eyes, in their cracked hands; especially in the long, snaky locks, stiff with loathsome ichor, and, like their eyebrows, ghastly white. Nor was it possible to have told which was mother which daughter; both alike seemed witch-like old.
“Hist!” said the mother. “There is someone lying upon the step- a man. Let us go round him.”
They crossed to the opposite side of the street quickly, and, in the shade there, moved on till before the gate, where they stopped.
“He is asleep, Tirzah!” The man was very still.
The man was very still.
“Stay here, and I will try the gate.”
So saying, the mother stole noiselessly across, and ventured to touch the wicket; she never knew if it yielded, for that moment the man sighed, and, turning restlessly, shifted the handkerchief on his head in such a manner that the face was left upturned and fair in the broad moonlight. She looked down at it and started; then looked again, stooping a little, and arose and clasped her hands and raised her eyes to heaven in mute appeal. An instant so, and she ran back to Tirzah.