“As the Lord liveth, the man is my son- thy brother!” she said, in an awe-inspiring whisper.
“My brother?- Judah?”
The mother caught her hand eagerly.
“Come!” she said, in the same enforced whisper, “let us look at him together- once more- only once- then help thou thy servants, Lord!”
They crossed the street hand in hand, ghostly-quick, ghostly-still. When their shadows fell upon him, they stopped. One of his hands was lying out upon the step palm up. Tirzah fell upon her knees, and would have kissed it; but the mother drew her back.
“Not for thy life; not for thy life! Unclean, unclean!” she whispered.
Tirzah shrank from him, as if he were the leprous one.
Ben-Hur was handsome as the manly are. His cheeks and forehead were swarthy from exposure to the desert sun and air; yet under the light moustache the lips were red, and the teeth shone white, and the soft beard did not hide the full roundness of chin and throat. How beautiful he appeared to the mother’s eyes! How mightily she yearned to put her arms about him, and take his head upon her bosom and kiss him, as had been her wont in his happy childhood! Where got she the strength to resist the impulse? From her love, O reader!- her mother-love, which, if thou wilt observe well, hath this unlikeness to any other love: tender to the object, it can be infinitely tyrannical to itself, and thence all its power of self-sacrifice. Not for restoration to health and fortune, not for any blessing of life, not for life itself, would she have left her leprous kiss upon his cheek! Yet touch him she must; in that instant of finding him she must renounce him for ever! How bitter, bitter hard it was, let some other mother say! She knelt down, and, crawling to his feet, touched the sole of one of his sandals with her lips, yellow though it was with the dust of the street- and touched it again and again; and her very soul was in the kisses.
He stirred, and tossed his hand. They moved back, but heard him mutter in his dream- “Mother! Amrah! Where- ”
He fell off into the deep sleep.
Tirzah stirred wistfully. The mother put her face in the dust, struggling to suppress a sob so deep and strong it seemed her heart was bursting. Almost she wished he might waken.
He had asked for her; she was not forgotten; in his sleep he was thinking of her. Was it not enough? Presently the mother beckoned to Tirzah, and they arose, and taking one more look, as if to print his image past fading, hand in hand they recrossed the street. Back in the shade of the wall there, they retired and knelt, looking at him, waiting for him to wake- waiting some revelation, they knew not what. Nobody has yet given us a measure for the patience of a love like theirs.