A few steps within the second court, the lad turned to the right, and, choosing a walk through the shrubbery, part of which was in flower, passed to the stairway, and ascended to the terrace- a broad pavement of white and brown flags closely laid, and much worn. Making way under the awning to a doorway on the north side, he entered an apartment which the dropping of the screen behind him returned to darkness. Nevertheless, he proceeded, moving over a tiled floor to a divan, upon which he flung himself, face downwards, and lay at rest, his forehead upon his crossed arms.
About nightfall a woman came to the door and called; he answered and she went in.
“Supper is over, and it is night. Is not my son hungry?” she asked.
“No,” he replied.
“Are you sick?”
“I am sleepy.”
“Your mother has asked for you.”
“Where is she?”
“In the summer-house on the roof.”
He stirred himself, and sat up.
“Very well. Bring me something to eat.”
“What do you want?”
“What you please, Amrah. I am not sick, but indifferent. Life does not seem as pleasant as it did this morning. A new ailment, O my Amrah; and you who know me so well, who never failed me, may think of the things now that answer for food and medicine. Bring me what you choose.”
Amrah’s questions, and the voice in which she put them- low, sympathetic, and solicitous- were significant of an endeared relation between the two. She laid her hand upon his forehead; then, as satisfied, went out, saying, “I will see.”
After a while she returned, bearing on a wooden platter a bowl of milk, some thin cakes of white bread broken, a delicate paste of brayed wheat, a bird broiled, and honey and salt. On one end of the platter there was a silver goblet full of wine, on the other a brazen hand-lamp lighted.
The room was then revealed: its walls smoothly plastered; the ceiling broken by great oaken rafters, brown with rain stains and time; the floor of small diamond-shaped white and blue tiles, very firm and enduring; a few stools with legs carved in imitation of the legs of lions; a divan raised a little above the floor, trimmed with blue cloth, and partially covered by an immense striped woollen blanket or shawl- in brief, a Hebrew bed-room.
The same light also gave the woman to view. Drawing a stool to the divan, she placed the platter upon it, then knelt close by, ready to serve him. Her face was that of a woman of fifty, dark-skinned, dark-eyed, and at the moment softened by a look of tenderness almost maternal. A white turban covered her head, leaving the lobes of the ear exposed, and in them the sign that settled her condition- an orifice bored by a thick awl. She was a slave of Egyptian origin, to whom not even the sacred fiftieth year could have brought freedom; nor would she have accepted it, for the boy she was attending was her life. She had nursed him through babyhood, tended him as a child, and could not break the service. To her love he could never be a man.