When the sun would gild the crest of Olivet and the Mount of Offence with light sharper and more brilliant in that old land than in the West, she knew Amrah would come, first to the well, then to a stone midway the well and the foot of the hill on which she had her abode, and that the good servant would there deposit the food she carried in the basket, and fill the water-jar afresh for the day. Of her former plentitude of happiness, that brief visit was all that remained to the unfortunate. She could then ask about her son, and be told of his welfare, with such bits of news concerning him as the messenger could glean. Usually the information was meagre enough, yet comforting; at times she heard he was at home; then she would issue from her dreary cell at break of day, and sit till noon, and from noon to set of sun, a motionless figure draped in white, looking, statue-like, invariably to one point- over the Temple to the spot under the rounded sky where the old house stood, dear in memory, and dearer because he was there. Nothing else was left her. Tirzah she counted of the dead; and as for herself, she simply waited the end, knowing every hour of life was an hour of dying- happily, of painless dying.
The things of nature about the hill to keep her sensitive to the world’s attractions were wretchedly scant; beasts and birds avoided the place as if they knew its history and present use; every green thing perished in its first season; the winds warred upon the shrubs and venturous grasses, leaving to drought such as they could not uproot. Look where she would, the view was made depressingly suggestive by tombs- tombs above her, tombs below, tombs opposite her own tomb- all now freshly whitened in warning to visiting pilgrims. In the sky- clear, fair, inviting- one would think she might have found some relief to her ache of mind; but, alas! in making the beautiful elsewhere the sun served her never so unfriendly- it did but disclose her growing hideousness. But for the sun she would not have been the horror she was to herself, nor been waked so cruelly from dreams of Tirzah as she used to be. The gift of seeing can be sometimes a dreadful curse.
Does one ask why she did not make an end to her sufferings? The Law forbade her! A Gentile may smile at the answer; but so will not a son of Israel.
While she sat there peopling the dusky solitude with thoughts even more cheerless, suddenly a woman came up the hill staggering and spent with exertion.
The widow arose hastily, and covering her head, cried, in a voice unnaturally harsh, “Unclean, unclean!”
In a moment, heedless of the notice, Amrah was at her feet. All the long-pent love of the simple creature burst forth: with tears and passionate exclamations she kissed her mistress’s garments, and for a while the latter strove to escape from her; then, seeing she could not, she waited till the violence of the paroxysm was over.