He spoke but once during the meal.
“You remember, O my Amrah,” he said, “the Messala who used to visit me here days at a time.”
“I remember him.”
“He went to Rome some years ago, and is now back. I called upon him to-day.”
A shudder of disgust seized the lad.
“I knew something had happened,” she said, deeply interested. “I never liked the Messala. Tell me all.”
But he fell into musing, and to her repeated inquiries only said, “He is much changed, and I shall have nothing more to do with him.”
When Amrah took the platter away he also went out, and up from the terrace to the roof.
The reader is presumed to know somewhat of the uses of the house-top in the East. In the matter of customs, climate is a law-giver everywhere. The Syrian summer day drives the seeker of comfort into the darkened lewen; night, however, calls him forth early, and the shadows deepening over the mountain-sides seem veils dimly covering Circean singers; but they are far off, while the roof is close by, and raised above the level of the shimmering plain enough for the visitation of cool airs, and sufficiently above the trees to allure the stars down closer, down at least into brighter shining. So the roof became a resort- became playground, sleeping-chamber, boudoir, rendezvous for the family, place of music, dance, conversation, reverie, and prayer.
The motive that prompts the decoration, at whatever cost, of interiors in colder climes suggested to the Oriental the embellishment of his house-top. The parapet ordered by Moses became a potter’s triumph; above that, later, arose towers plain and fantastic; still later, kings and princes crowned their roofs with summer-houses of marble and gold. When the Babylonian hung gardens in the air, extravagance could push the idea no further.
The lad whom we are following walked slowly across the house-top to a tower built over the north-west corner of the palace. Had he been a stranger he might have bestowed a glance upon the structure as he drew nigh it, and seen all the dimness permitted- a darkened mass, low, latticed, pillared, and domed. He entered, passing under a half-raised curtain. The interior was all darkness, except that on four sides there were arched openings like doorways, through which the sky, lighted with stars, was visible. In one of the openings, reclining against a cushion from a divan, he saw the figure of a woman, indistinct even in white floating drapery. At the sound of his steps upon the floor, the fan in her hand stopped, glistening where the starlight struck the jewels with which it was sprinkled, and she sat up, and called his name.
“Judah, my son!”
“It is I, mother,” he answered, quickening his approach.
Going to her, he knelt, and she put her arms around him, and with kisses pressed him to her bosom.