“I am ready now,” she said in a whisper, “quite ready, sweet Heaven, quite, quite ready now.”
Then with her one free hand she felt in the darkness for Israel, where he sat beside her, and touching his forehead she smoothed it, and said very softly, “Farewell, my husband!”
And Israel answered her, “Farewell!”
“Good-night!” she whispered.
And Israel drew down her hand from his forehead to his lips and sobbed, and said, “Good-night, beloved!”
Then she put her white lips to the child’s blind eyes, and at that moment the spirit of the Lord came to her, and the Lord took her, and she died.
When lamps had been brought into the room, and Fatimah saw that the end had come, she would have lifted Naomi from Ruth’s bosom, but the child awoke as she was being moved, and clasped her little fingers about the dead mother’s neck and covered the mouth with kisses. And when she felt that the lips did not answer to her lips, and that the arms which had held her did not hold her any longer, but fell away useless, she clung the closer, and tears started to her eyes.
The people of Tetuan were not melted towards Israel by the depth of his sorrow and the breadth of shadow that lay upon him. By noon of the day following the night of Ruth’s death, Israel knew that he was to be left alone. It was a rule of the Mellah that on notice being given of a death in their quarter, the clerk of the synagogue should publish it at the first service thereafter, in order that a body of men, called the Hebra Kadisha of Kabranim, the Holy Society of Buriers, might straightway make arrangements for burial. Early prayers had been held in the synagogue at eight o’clock that morning, and no one had yet come near to Israel’s house. The men of the Hebra were going about their ordinary occupations. They knew nothing of Ruth’s death by official announcement. The clerk had not published it. Israel remembered with bitterness that notice of it had not been sent. Nevertheless, the fact was known throughout Tetuan. There was not a water-carrier in the market-place but had taken it to each house he called at, and passed it to every man he met. Little groups of idle Jewish women had been many hours congregated in the streets outside, talking of it in whispers and looking up at the darkened windows with awe. But the synagogue knew nothing of it. Israel had omitted the customary ceremony, and in that omission lay the advantage of his enemies. He must humble himself and send to them. Until he did so they would leave him alone.
Israel did not send. Never once since the birth of Naomi had he crossed the threshold of the synagogue. He would not cross it now, whether in body or in spirit. But he was still a Jew, with Jewish customs, if he had lost the Jewish faith, and it was one of the customs of the Jews that a body should be buried within twenty-four hours, at farthest, from the time of death. He must do something immediately. Some help must be summoned. What help could it be?