“God bless father, and mother, and Naomi, and everybody,” the black boy would say.
And the little maid would touch his hands and hi throat, and pass her fingers over his face from his eyelids to his lips, and then do as he did, and in her silence seem to echo him.
Pretty and piteous sights! Who could look on them without tears? One thing at least was clear if the soul of this child was in prison, nevertheless it was alive; and if it was in chains, nevertheless it could not die, but was immortal and unmaimed and waited only for the hour when it should be linked to other souls, soul to soul in the chains of speech. But the years went on, and Naomi grew in beauty and increased in sweetness, but no angel came down to open the darkened windows of her eyes, and draw aside the heavy curtains of her ears.
THE DEATH OF RUTH
For all her joy and all her prettiness, Naomi was a burden which only love could bear. To think of the girl by day, and to dream of her by night, never to sit by her without pity of her helplessness, and never to leave her without dread of the mischances that might so easily befall, to see for her, to hear for her, to speak for her, truly the tyranny of the burden was terrible.
Ruth sank under it. Through seven years she was eyes of the child’s eyes, and ears of her ears, and tongue of her tongue. After that her own sight became dim, and her hearing faint. It was almost as if she had spent them on Naomi in the yearning of dove and pity. Soon afterwards her bodily strength failed her also, and then she knew that her time had come, and that she was to lay down her burden for ever. But her burden had become dear, and she clung to it. She could not look upon the child and think it, that she, who had spent her strength for her from the first, must leave her now to other love and tending. So she betook herself to an upper room, and gave strict orders to Fatimah and Habeebah that Naomi was to be kept from her altogether, that sight of the child’s helpless happy face might tempt her soul no more.
And there in her death-chamber Israel sat with her constantly, settling his countenance steadfastly, and coming and going softly. He was more constant than a slave, and more tender than a woman. His love was great, but also he was eating out his big heart with remorse. The root of his trouble was the child. He never talked of her, and neither did Ruth dwell upon her name. Yet they thought of little else while they sat together.
And even if they had been minded to talk of the child, what had they to say of her? They had no memories to recall, no sweet childish sayings, no simple broken speech, no pretty lisp—they had nothing to bring back out of any harvest of the past of all the dear delicious wealth that lies stored in the treasure-houses of the hearts of happy parents. That way everything was a waste. Always, as Israel entered her room, Ruth would say, “How is the child?” And always Israel would answer, “She is well.” But, if at that moment Naomi’s laughter came up to them from the patio, where she played with Ali, they would cover their faces and be silent.