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Title: Christmas Light
Author: Phillips, Ethel Calvert
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Christmas Light" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



Christmas Light

[Illustration]

  Christmas Light

  BY
  ETHEL CALVERT PHILLIPS

  _With Illustrations_

  [Illustration]

  BOSTON AND NEW YORK
  HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY
  The Riverside Press Cambridge
  1922

  COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY ETHEL CALVERT PHILLIPS

  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


  The Riverside Press
  CAMBRIDGE MASSACHUSETTS
  PRINTED IN THE U.S.A.

  TO

  MY MOTHER

  Light of the world, the world is dark about Thee;
    Far out on Judah's hills the night is deep.
  Not yet the day is come when men shall doubt Thee,
    Not yet the hour when Thou must wake and weep;
    O little one, O Lord of Glory, sleep!

  Love of all heaven, love's arms are folded round Thee,
    Love's heart shall be the pillow for Thy cheek.
  Not yet the hour has come when hate shall wound Thee,
    Not yet for shelter vainly must Thou seek.
    Rest, little one, so mighty and so weak.

  Lie still and rest, Thou Rest of earth and heaven;
    Rest, little hands--our Hope of bliss ye keep;
  Rest, little heart--one day shalt Thou be riven;
    O newborn Life, O Life eternal, sleep!
    Far out on Judah's hills the night is deep.

[Illustration]

[Illustration]



Contents


     I. Naomi's Garden                     1

    II. One Sabbath                       20

   III. The Trip to Jerusalem             37

    IV. In the Dark                       60

     V. All the World Comes Visiting      73

    VI. The Shepherds                     88

   VII. In a Manger                      101

  VIII. The Light of the World           116

[Illustration]



Christmas Light



CHAPTER I

NAOMI'S GARDEN


It was in a little garden in the village of Bethlehem, many and many a
year ago, that four scarlet poppies stood side by side and swayed gently
back and forth upon their slim green stalks in the soft afternoon wind.

A little girl came running over the grass and halted before the
poppies.

"How beautiful you are!" said the little girl, whose name was Naomi, and
who was eight years old.

She clasped her hands before her in delight, and stood smiling down upon
the flowers that seemed to nod courteously in reply.

This little Jewish girl had dark curling hair and gentle brown eyes. Her
cheeks were as rosy as the poppies, and she wore a gay little robe of
scarlet and yellow striped stuff, while upon her bare brown feet were
tied soft leather sandals.

"How beautiful you are!" said Naomi again to the poppies. "You are mine,
for I made you grow, and you are the most beautiful flowers in all our
lovely garden."

And she looked as proudly round the tiny garden plot as if it were as
spacious and as wonderful as the famous gardens of the wicked King
Herod, or even those of the Temple High Priest himself.

In the center of the grass plot stood an orange-tree, and under it, in
the shade of its glossy leaves, had been placed a light wooden bench. A
tall hedge of prickly thorns prevented passers-by on the narrow village
street from peeping in. At one end a heavy grapevine clambered over a
trellis, while at the other there were several rich clumps of myrtle
that showed dark against the surrounding grass. Below the thorn hedge
stood a row of bold flaunting tulips, and there were two flower-beds,
one of white, the other of tall red lilies.

The garden was indeed a pleasant place, and Naomi's happiest hours were
spent here, whether playing peacefully alone, or amusing baby Jonas, or
when the family gathered together under the orange-tree, Father and
Mother, brother Ezra, baby Jonas, and herself.

To be sure there were vines and flowers growing on the roof of Naomi's
house, which was often used as a place to sit in the cool of the day and
even to sleep when the house grew unbearably warm. For Naomi's dwelling
looked like nothing so much as a square box turned upside down with only
a door cut in the front and not a window to break the smooth white
sides.

Within, there was a single room, round which ran a bench where were kept
the gay quilts, tightly rolled, which made the only beds Naomi knew.
Here, too, lay the cushions upon which the family sat when at meals
round the table, which was then pulled out from the wall. There was a
great carved chest in which were kept the Sabbath clothes, the crescent
of coins which belonged to Naomi's mother and which she wore upon her
head as an ornament on festive occasions, and the long parchment rolls
of Scripture in which Naomi's father took the keenest pride. At the
door stood a tall water-jar with herbs floating on the top to keep the
water cool.

In a niche in the doorpost hung a small roll of parchment in a case.
Naomi was used to seeing her father and his friends touch it reverently
when passing in or out, and then kiss the fingers that had touched the
Name of the Most High. She could even recite as well as Ezra the verses
she knew were written there, beginning, "Hear, O Israel: Jehovah our God
is one Jehovah," and ending "and thou shalt write them upon the
doorposts of thy house and upon thy gates."

In a small building near by stood the oven where Naomi's mother did her
baking and which she used in common with several other families. It was
often a meeting-place for the children, who hung about the door on
baking-days hoping for hot crumbs--stout Solomon from across the road;
Rachel and Rebekah, Naomi's particular friends; little Enoch, who walked
with a limp and who would never grow any taller, though he might live to
be ever so old.

"I would that my Aunt Miriam used our oven," Naomi often thought, "for
she bakes every day, and, oh, such good things as she makes."

Naomi's aunt kept the village inn or khan that stood just outside the
city gates on one of the little hills upon which Bethlehem was built.
Many travelers stopped the night at the khan and even longer, for the
village lay only one mile to the right of the great road which led from
Jerusalem, six miles away, to the old town of Hebron, and then down into
the far-away, mysterious land of Egypt itself. Where the road from
Bethlehem joined the Jerusalem highway stood the tomb of Rachel, and
many a time had Naomi, loitering in the courtyard of the inn, heard
pious pilgrims, fresh from the spot, tell the stories of Rachel and
Jacob, and their sons Joseph and Benjamin.

Naomi's little head was packed full of the stories of the great people
of her race. Ezra, eleven years old, went to school in the synagogue
every day with the other boys of the village, and diligently studied the
Law and the Prophets. At home, Naomi was taught by her mother, not only
the care of the house, but the history of the Hebrew people, their
songs, their prayers, and their hopes.

"I know ten hymns without a mistake," Naomi would boast, and by hymns
she meant what we call psalms. "I can recite the Song of Deborah and the
Song of Hannah. I can tell all the story about them, too, and, oh, ever
so many more."

Her favorite story was that of the Naomi for whom she had been named.
But this summer afternoon she was thinking of nothing save of the pretty
blossoms that now swung before her after so many days of patient toil
and care.

She caught sight of her mother in the doorway and eagerly called her to
come and see the sight.

"Come, Mother, come," she called. "My poppies are all out, every one.
Four of them in a row! See--even the smallest one that I feared would
not bloom at all. There is one for each of thee: Father, Mother, Ezra,
Jonas. The smallest one is for Jonas, and verily it is the prettiest one
of all."

Naomi's mother came smiling down the path. She carried a water-pitcher
or urn, and astride her left shoulder sat baby Jonas, steadying himself
by clutching his mother's thick dark hair.

"The flowers are beautiful, Naomi," said she pleasantly. "They well
repay thee for all thy patience and care. I go now to the fountain for
water. It lacks but half an hour to sundown. Watch thy little brother
Jonas well and keep him happy until I return."

And slipping Jonas from her shoulder to the grass, and pulling her white
linen veil into place, she stepped quickly out into the village street,
her urn securely balanced upon her head.

Jonas had already crept over to the bench, and, dragging himself up upon
his unsteady legs, he looked into his sister's face with a smile.

"The smallest poppy is thine, Jonas," Naomi told him, "but thou must
touch it not. Come now with me and see the pigeons."

Behind the house, a step out of the garden, stood a dove-cote made of
mud. Inside were two wide-mouthed earthen jars that served as
nesting-boxes. The pigeons were stepping majestically about on the
ground, the sun touching their soft gray feathers with blue and green
and rose. Jonas made several lunges at them in the hope of capturing a
new plaything, but he succeeded only in stubbing his toe and sitting
down hard upon the ground.

"No, neither must thou touch them," said Naomi, helping him tenderly to
his feet and brushing off the dirt. "It seems to me that there are a
great many things that thou must not touch. But I know something that
thou canst do. It is my secret, but I do not mind telling thee because
thou canst not talk. Thou mayst help me dig a well!"

Naomi's voice sank mysteriously as she guided the tottering Jonas back
into the garden and over to a bare spot of ground behind the largest of
the myrtle bushes.

"Sit ye down, Jonas," said Naomi, sinking cross-legged to the ground.
"I mean to dig the well here, it will be so handy for Mother. Then never
will she have to walk down to the fountain unless she likes. You take
that stick and I will use this one."

For a few moments the little girl worked industriously, loosening the
dry sun-baked soil, while Jonas scratched vigorously with his
sharp-pointed stick.

"It is hard work, Jonas," sighed Naomi, pausing to shake back her curls.
"But it will be worth it when once the well is made. It will be called
'Naomi's well' for me, and years and years from now my
great-great-grandchildren will be proud of me because I made it. And
when I am an old woman, all thin and brown and dried-up like lame
Enoch's grandmother, I will say to my grandchildren, all standing round
and listening to every word I say--I will say, 'Grandchildren, I well
remember the day thy dear uncle--that is thou, Jonas--and I dug
this'--Oh! Oh!" And Naomi screamed aloud and jumped to her feet.

Something cold and wet had been placed against the back of her neck, and
little shivers were running over her as she turned and saw her brother
Ezra behind her, smiling at her fright. In his arms he held a small
white lamb, and it was this little animal's nose that had been pressed
to Naomi's neck, and that had brought her day-dreaming to such an abrupt
close.

"Wilt thou not tell the grandchildren anything about their dear Uncle
Ezra?" inquired Ezra with a comical look. "Who sharpened those sticks
for thee, I would fain know, and thou didst not even tell me what use
they were for. How dost thou think the grandchildren would like to hear
that?"

"How unkind thou art to listen and then laugh at me," said Naomi,
putting out her under lip. "I would have told thee, Ezra, about the well
only it was a secret. Do not tell Mother, wilt thou? I would fain
surprise her. Promise thou wilt not tell, Ezra! Promise!" And Naomi laid
an imploring hand upon her brother's arm.

Ezra's only answer was to laugh and shake his head. Though he had no
intention of telling, he wanted to tease Naomi a little before making
any promises. He was fond of his little sister, and was far more gentle
and kindly than many another brother would have been in those days in
old Palestine.

For in the Jewish family, girls were not valued so highly as boys, and
were made to feel their unimportance in many ways that would be highly
displeasing to little sisters of to-day. Girls were taught to wait upon
their brothers and to treat them with respect. It was impressed upon
them that the duty of a girl was to be useful and modest and quiet, and
that her chief pleasure should lie in making home happy and comfortable
for her father and brothers.

But in the household of Samuel the weaver, Naomi's lot had not been
quite that of the ordinary Jewish girl. Her father was proud of his
bright, lovable little daughter and had made her his special pet. Her
mother, who had been well taught by her own mother, a "wise woman" of
her day, was careful that Naomi seldom missed the daily lesson that kept
the little girl, to her great delight, only a short way behind Ezra on
the hard road of knowledge.

So Ezra, though he felt his superiority as a boy and the first-born of
his family, could not long resist Naomi's pleading glance nor the
pressure of her little brown hand.

"What wilt thou give me if I do not tell?" asked Ezra, not wishing to
seem to relent too quickly.

"The first bright shekel I find in the highway," answered Naomi saucily.

She was smiling now, and her hand was gently stroking the little lamb's
nose.

"What lamb is this, Ezra?" she asked. "And why hast thou brought it
home? It seems sleepy, poor little creature. Look, its eyes are half
shut."

"It is one of the Temple flock," answered Ezra, looking down at the
quiet little animal in his arms. "But it has a blemish. It runs on three
legs, and it does not see very well. They will not keep it in the
flock--it is not fit for Temple use--and shepherd Eli gave it to me this
afternoon for my own. I helped him find an old ewe that had caught her
foot between two stones, and when I was leaving he gave me the lamb."

By the "Temple flock" Ezra meant the sheep that were destined to be used
as sacrifices in the great Temple at Jerusalem, and which were encamped
all the year round on the hills outside the city. The shepherds of the
flock were friendly to the boy, who declared he meant when a man to be a
Temple shepherd himself. Ezra spent most of his spare time with them,
helping them in their work and listening with delight to their thrilling
stories of encounters with wolves and jackals. Many of the shepherds
were friends of his father, for both were connected with the Temple,
since Samuel the weaver spent his days, in common with a number of
others in Bethlehem, in making the gorgeous curtains and veils that were
used in the sacred building.

"Stand up, Three Legs," said Ezra, putting his lamb on the ground and
showing Naomi its pitifully shrunken limb. In naming it "Three Legs"
Ezra was following the custom of the shepherds who called their charges
by any peculiarity they might possess, such as "Black Ear" or "Long
Tail." "I mean to make a little wagon and teach Three Legs to draw it.
And if he is not able to do that, I shall sell him for whatever I can
get."

"Oh, no, Ezra," said Naomi whose tender heart was touched by the forlorn
little animal. "He is sick, he is not able to draw a wagon. Give him to
me and let me take care of him."

Ezra shook his head.

"I will sell him first," said he with determination. "I will not give
him away."

"Sell him to me!" cried Naomi; "sell him to me!"

The lamb had toppled over in a little heap and was looking patiently and
with half-closed eyes into Naomi's face bent above him. It seemed to
the little girl that she would gladly give her dearest possession if she
might have the lamb for her own to nurse and care for.

"Sell him to me, Ezra. I will give thee anything thou mayst ask."

"What hast thou to give?" asked Ezra shrewdly. He felt sure the lamb
could never draw a wagon, and the prospect of selling a sick animal was
small.

"Anything thou mayst ask," was Naomi's reckless answer. The lamb had put
out a limp pink tongue and was licking her fingers.

"Thy poppies?"

Ezra had heard his aunt say that very day, "I need poppies sorely for my
brew for the palsy, and not a single one has bloomed in the khan garden
this year."

Surely four poppies would be worth a rich cake or two, or perhaps even
a piece of money.

"My poppies?" Naomi looked aghast. "My poppies? All four? Why, there is
just one apiece! Father and Mother, thou and Jonas! My poppies?"

The lamb stirred and with a little sigh of content snuggled his nose
into the palm of Naomi's hand.

"Take them!" Naomi stood up and gathered the lamb in her arms. "Take
them, only let me not see thee."

She turned her back upon Ezra and shut her eyes.

Quickly he gathered the flowers and ran out of the garden.

Naomi opened her eyes. She gave one look at her despoiled flower-bed and
bent again over the lamb.

"I am glad, Three Legs," said she warmly. "Thou art much better than
many poppies, thou poor little creature, and I am glad I did it. I am
glad!"



CHAPTER II

ONE SABBATH


It was Sabbath morning, and Naomi and her mother and Ezra were on their
way to the synagogue.

They chose back streets as they went, and they met only women and
children on their way, for the front roads on the Sabbath day were given
up to the men.

Naomi was happy as she walked quietly along holding fast to her mother's
hand, for she wore her new hyacinth-blue robe that her mother had spun
and her father had woven for her.

Ezra had other thoughts, and presently he whispered in Naomi's ear:

"In two years' time I shall be a Son of the Law, and then I shall sit on
the men's side in the synagogue, and walk on the front streets on
Sabbath. Thou and Mother will have to come alone."

Naomi shook her head.

"Jonas will walk with us then," she whispered back. "Boaster!"

She did not really blame Ezra for his lordly words and air, for she knew
how every Jewish boy looked forward to what was called his Day of
Freedom, when by a priest in the synagogue he was made a Son of the Law.
Then he would be no longer a child, but a young man. His school days
would be over. He would choose a trade and begin to earn his own living.

But it was a comfort to Naomi to think that, with Ezra gone, little
Jonas would trot along by her side, and she was thinking of baby Jonas,
left every Sabbath morning in the care of lame Enoch's old grandmother,
now grown too feeble to climb the hill to the synagogue, when Aunt
Miriam overtook them.

Aunt Miriam's husband, Simon, was a wealthy man in the village of
Bethlehem. He was the owner of the guest-house or khan that stood a
little below the town on the way leading down into Egypt, and which was
believed to have been the dwelling of Boaz and Ruth, and the birth-place
of King David himself.

To-day Aunt Miriam wore a robe of fine linen, covered with a wide cloak
of black and white stripes, and her earrings and bracelets tinkled at
every step. On week-days the children knew her to be bustling and chatty
and fond of a jest. But the Sabbath saw her a different woman. Stately
and dignified she walked beside them now, her brown eyes gazing far away
and full of holy thought.

The children felt awed and shy with her as they might with a stranger.
Ezra stopped his whispering. Naomi glanced timidly up, her head held
sideways like a little bird.

"How good Aunt Miriam is!" she mused.

But her aunt's thoughts wandered for a moment from their pious
meditations. Suddenly she loosened the veil that was pulled across her
face and spoke briefly to Naomi's mother.

"I shall come to see thee to-night after sundown. I go to Jerusalem
to-morrow, and there may be room in the cart for a certain good little
maid."

Naomi's heart leaped. Did Aunt Miriam mean her? What other little girl
might she take with her? But she had said "a good little maid," and
Naomi remembered with a pang of regret how she and Ezra had quarreled
yesterday, and had not ceased their bickering until at sunset the three
blasts of the silver trumpet, blown by the priest on the synagogue roof,
had reminded them that Sabbath eve had come.

She longed to ask outright: "Dost thou mean to take me to Jerusalem
with thee, Aunt Miriam?"

But they had reached the flat-roofed little synagogue, and once inside
the gate the children silently followed their mother and aunt into the
women's court and seated themselves on the mats that covered the stone
floor.

Naomi's mind was so occupied by the thought of a possible trip to
Jerusalem that she forgot to peep, according to her wont, through the
lattice that separated the men's court from that of the women, in the
hope of seeing her father. She usually watched with interest while the
sacred Rolls were taken from their curtained shrine, before which burned
the holy lamp, and their outer cover of gold-embroidered silk and inner
cover of linen removed.

But this morning she scarcely heard the voice of the visiting rabbi who
read the lesson for the day, and her mother was obliged to twitch her
vigorously when, during the prayers, the congregation rose to their feet
and turned toward the Holy City.

The Sabbath day seemed endless to the eager little girl. All work and
play were forbidden. No fire might be lighted, no bed made. Naomi had
been well taught in the Law. She knew that it would be sinful for her
even to carry a handkerchief tucked in her belt. And so surely not until
Sabbath was over would the trip to Jerusalem be discussed.

She sat alone in the shade of the fig-tree that grew beside their door,
and wished that she might see her friends Rachel and Rebekah to tell
them the good news. She watched the great sun flame through the bright
Syrian sky until her eyes burned and ached, but still it was not
sundown. At last she curled herself up on the floor of the house with
heavy-eyed Three Legs at her side and fell asleep.

When she woke it was the First Watch of the Evening, six o'clock, and
the crimson sun was sinking out of sight behind the Judean hills. Naomi
sprang up and ran into the garden. There on the bench under the
orange-tree sat her father and mother and Aunt Miriam.

Aunt Miriam was talking.

"And so, since Simon is still sick with a heavy summer cold, nothing
will do but I must ride to Jerusalem to-morrow with the load of grapes,"
she was saying. Simon had large vineyards and owned many olive-trees,
beside being host at the inn. "To be sure, Jacob is a good serving-lad
and manages well without his master. But there is no one, after himself,
who makes a better bargain than I, Simon says, and so I must ride with
the fruit to see that justice is done my lord Simon in the trade."

Here Aunt Miriam laughed so heartily that Samuel and his wife were
forced to smile in sympathy. But Samuel was not altogether pleased with
Aunt Miriam's little joke about her husband, who was in truth her lord
and master and worthy of her deepest respect. He changed the subject by
asking:

"And what does the physician say of Simon?"

"He recommended that he kiss the nose of a mule," Aunt Miriam answered
gravely.

To her and to her audience there was nothing amusing about this
prescription. Stranger remedies than that had been ordered by the wise
doctors of the day: a broth of beetle's legs, crab's eyes, the heads of
mice, bruised flies to cure the sting of a hornet!

"But in spite of this," she continued, "he is still flat on his back,
groaning with aches and pains. So, to-morrow, Jacob and I start at
sunrise with the bullock cart, and no doubt there will be room among the
baskets of grapes for Naomi, if thou wilt permit her to go."

Naomi, at her father's elbow, glanced imploringly into his face, but she
did not speak a word. Her mother, from the end of the bench, smiled
hopefully at the little girl, but she, too, waited in deferent silence
until, to Naomi's great relief, her father gave a nod of consent.

"It is kind of thee, sister Miriam," said he, putting his arm about
Naomi and drawing her to his side, "to think of giving our little
daughter this pleasure."

"Naomi must be good and obedient and not make herself troublesome in any
way," said her mother warningly, leaning forward to pull Naomi's little
robe straight. "Thy aunt will be occupied with her business, Naomi, and
thou must be as quiet as a mouse so that she will not regret that thou
art with her."

"Never fear that," said Aunt Miriam heartily, "Naomi is as dear to me as
my own. I shall not be so busy that she will have to play mouse all day.
She shall see something of the city, and eat a good dinner at the house
of Simon's sister Anna, and make friends, perhaps, with Anna's little
Martha who is just her age."

"I will be quiet," promised Naomi, her face bright with smiles. "I will
be good. I will not speak a word nor stir all day long."

"Great are thy promises, Naomi," answered Aunt Miriam, rising to go and
laying a kindly hand upon the curly head of her niece. "I will give thee
a hot breakfast at the khan to stay thee on thy journey, so be not late.
We start at sunrise!"

"Oh, Father," cried Naomi, throwing her arms about her father's neck,
"how good I mean to be always after this! Dost think I shall see the
Temple? And, Mother, which am I to wear--my new blue robe or my yellow
and red striped one? I am really to go to Jerusalem! Oh, what will Ezra
say when he hears the good news I have to tell!"

The next morning at daybreak, when the purple shadows lay heavily in the
east and the sky was still gray overhead, Naomi, wearing a gay little
cloak of scarlet over her best blue robe, ran hastily down the stony
road that led to the Bethlehem khan.

The drowsy gate-keeper had already unlocked the heavy town gates, for
day begins early in hot countries, and at sight of Naomi, whom he knew
well, he uttered a sleepy "Peace be with thee!" as a morning greeting.

"With thee be peace!" piped Naomi in return. "Oh, Nathan, I go to-day
to Jerusalem with my Aunt Miriam. This very day I go!"

Old Nathan nodded his head solemnly and muttered in his beard.

"Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth is Mount Zion,"
responded the pious old Jew. But Naomi was half-way down the hill and
did not hear one word.

There before her at the crossroads stood the old khan, with its great
wall of stone and its stout gate behind which all night long sat a
watchman on the alert. Below the inn lay the very fields among which
Ruth, long, long ago, had gleaned the golden corn, and where later King
David as a shepherd lad had tended his flock.

Naomi slipped through the open gate into the courtyard of the khan and
stood for a moment watching the bustle and confusion of the scene
before her. In the center of the court was the fountain, and round it
now crowded the pilgrims and travelers, drawing water for the morning
meal or in which to wash before eating. The archways which lined the
wall formed the rooms of the ancient inn, for the building at the end of
the court in which Simon the host and Aunt Miriam lived was not open to
strangers. Shelter and food were not provided within. Each man in his
little archway must spread his own carpet, light his own brazier, cook
his own food, and eat from his own dish. A Syrian khan of that period
was not at all like the inns of our day. It was expected to supply
nothing but water and straw for a bed. It was a refuge from thieves and
wild animals, a shelter from heat and dust, a spot where a trader might
sell his wares.

Naomi looked with interest at the patient camels already kneeling to
receive their load, perhaps of precious ointment or sweet spices. Here
were the merchants spreading their wares: gold work from Cairo; shawls
of Tyrian dye, royal purple or scarlet; rich perfumes in their vases of
alabaster, large and small. In one corner a group of dogs, snapping and
snarling, quarreled over a bone.

A caravan was starting for Egypt, and as the Bethlehem khan was the
first night's rest after leaving Zion, many friends of the travelers had
come with them from Jerusalem and were now sorrowfully saying their last
farewells. Naomi stood watching an old father tenderly kiss his
departing son upon either cheek and then lay his hand upon the boy's
head in blessing. A little lad, carrying his pet monkey, was lifted to
the back of a camel, and Naomi was staring so intently that she did not
see the serving-lad Jacob until he was close upon her.

"Thy aunt calls for thee," said he to Naomi. "The cart stands ready
loaded and we start as soon as thou hast eaten."

"I would that we were going down into Egypt, Jacob," said Naomi,
skipping toward the house as she spoke. "To ride to Jerusalem is
nothing. We shall be back to-morrow in this very spot."

"Aye, if the robbers do not catch us," answered Jacob, wagging his head
wisely. It was the first time he had been trusted to ride to Jerusalem
with a load, and the responsibility weighed heavily upon him.

"Robbers? Aunt Miriam, will there be robbers on the way to-day, think
you?"

Aunt Miriam paused in her brisk stepping about the room.

"Here is a bowl of hot pottage and a warm cake for thee, Naomi. Eat all
of it," she commanded. "And talk not to me of robbers. In truth, there
are as many robbers in the khan at Bethlehem as upon the length of
Jerusalem highway. The caravan to Egypt will pay for straw for six
camels and ten mules, will they, when I myself counted no less than
twenty animals in their train? Jacob, bring hither the leader of the
caravan that I may talk with him. Robbers, indeed! Robbers!"

Aunt Miriam's red cheeks and flashing eyes boded ill for the leader of
the caravan for Egypt.

Naomi ate her lentil pottage and munched her cake leisurely in a quiet
corner, but she had long finished her meal when Aunt Miriam was at last
satisfied and ready to start.

The bullock cart stood loaded with baskets piled high with great bunches
of purple grapes. Over them were spread the dewy green leaves of the
vine to protect the fruit from the sun and to keep it fresh and moist.

Aunt Miriam, with a sigh of relief, settled herself in place in the
front of the cart. Naomi was tucked into a comfortable corner between
two great brown baskets of woven rushes. Jacob, standing at the cattle's
head, cracked his long whip, the animals strained forward, the cart
wheels creaked and turned, and they were off for Jerusalem.



CHAPTER III

THE TRIP TO JERUSALEM


The road to Jerusalem stretched white and hot in the blazing sunshine.
The deep blue sky was without a cloud, and the insects, hidden in the
roadside grass, hummed in the heat.

A cloud of dust in the distance told that the three Roman soldiers who,
only a moment ago, it seemed, had galloped past the slowly moving ox
cart, were nearing their destination, the Holy City. Naomi had watched
the glitter of their helmets and the flashing of their bright lances
with the same interest she had given to a string of melancholy gray
camels led along the road by a country lad in his cool white tunic and
broad red leather belt.

Everything was interesting this morning to Naomi. She stared at the
dusty gray olive-trees, the shabby scrub oaks, the low-branched
sycamores as if she had not been familiar with them all her life. To-day
the birds seemed to dart about more swiftly and to utter sweeter songs
as they flew. The few sheep she spied nibbling the sparse grass on the
rocky hillsides were surely whiter than those at home. The field
flowers, with faces upturned to the bright sun, glowed with splendid
color. The whole world was glad to-day.

"They are all happy because I am happy," mused Naomi, smiling at her own
thought.

She glanced at Jacob plodding contentedly along beside his beasts, at
Aunt Miriam who sat silent, her usually busy hands folded in her lap,
enjoying this little rest from her many household cares.

Tap, tap, tap!

Naomi peered about, and Aunt Miriam sat up straight at this sound upon
the road.

Tap, tap, tap!

Now the shuffling of cautious feet was to be heard, too.

Down the Jerusalem highway came six men walking in single file, each
with a staff in hand and the other hand resting upon the shoulder of the
man before him. They were all blind! Even their guide, who tapped the
ground as he walked, was sightless, "the blind leading the blind."

Naomi stared curiously. She had often seen as many as a dozen blind men
walking in such a row, and they were always to be found by the wayside
or near the village gates at home, in company with the lame and the
helpless, holding out a little bowl for money or food.

"Jacob!" called Aunt Miriam.

She took a piece of money from her purse, securely fastened in her belt,
and Jacob, without being told, dropped it in the bowl of the blind
leader. He was accustomed to the charity of his good master and
mistress. Had not Moses the Lawgiver bade those who fear their God have
sympathy for the blind?

The blind men at sound of the cart had drawn up by the side of the road,
and now they leaned upon their staffs and turned their sightless faces
toward their unseen benefactress. They were glad of an excuse to rest
and also to talk, for time meant little to them, and they liked nothing
better than to recount, each one, the detailed history of his
misfortune.

But Aunt Miriam did not mean to spend several hours this morning in idle
talk upon the highway. She motioned Jacob to move on, and in response to
the thanks and blessings showered upon her for her gift, she called:

"Peace be unto thee, friends! We hasten on to Jerusalem before the sun
mounts high. May all good things await thee in Bethlehem!"

Up the steep hill climbed the bullock cart, and once round the curve in
the road Aunt Miriam pointed.

"Naomi--the City!" she said. "See the Temple! How it gleams!"

High above the flat roofs and massive walls of Jerusalem shone the great
gold and white Temple of the Hebrews. The little party halted at the
sight. Aunt Miriam's lips moved in prayer. Naomi was silent as she
gazed. She recalled the lines in one of the hymns her mother had taught
her:

"We have thought on thy lovingkindness, O God, in the midst of thy
temple."

To the pious little Jewish girl there could be no more beautiful nor
inspiring sight than that of the sacred Temple set in the midst of the
Holy City. She kept a reverent silence until they reached the Bethlehem
gate where entered all the trade and travel from Egypt and the sea.

But once Naomi was lifted down from the cart, and placed in the shade of
the huge gateway to wait with Aunt Miriam while Jacob justified their
presence in the city to the haughty Roman guard, her tongue wagged on as
merrily as before.

"We have no watch-tower like this one on our gateway at home, Aunt
Miriam," she observed, glancing up and down and roundabout. "I suppose
that ten soldiers could stand in this one at once if they liked."

Her aunt nodded absently. Her thoughts were with Jacob, still talking
with the Roman guard. She hoped there would be no trouble on this day of
all days when Simon was not with them.

"Wilt thou buy me a drink, Aunt Miriam?" Naomi asked next. "Not of
water, but of honey of wine."

The water-carriers were rough-looking bearded men who ran about in short
frocks, shouting and rattling their brass cups, with dingy goatskin
bottles lashed upon their backs. Naomi was afraid of them. She liked far
better the row of peasant women with grape juice to sell, who sat
against the wall and called out:

"Honey of wine! Who will buy? Honey of wine! Ho, every one that is
athirst, come! Buy and drink! Honey of wine!"

A moment later she had forgotten that she was thirsty and was watching
two poor women who sat in a corner on the ground grinding at a stone
mill. Near by stood a man selling the cakes new made from the meal the
women had ground. It was hard work turning the handles that pressed the
meal between the upper and nether millstones, and the women worked
wearily.

"How slow they are!" said Naomi scornfully. "I could work much faster
than they, could I not, Aunt Miriam? Could I not grind fast if I tried?"

Naomi's aunt did not answer. With a gentle hand she pushed the little
girl back against the wall.

"Stand there, thou chattering sparrow," said she with a smile, "and hold
thy peace. Here comes one Solomon the goldbeater, thy Uncle Simon's
friend. The load of grapes was brought here at his order, and it is my
task to-day to see that he offers a fair price for them. Peace!"

It seemed a long time to Naomi that Solomon the goldbeater and Jacob the
serving-lad, standing at a little distance from the wall, haggled over
the load of grapes. But at last Jacob came to report to his mistress the
sum offered, and since she was satisfied the bargain was soon made.

Then up they went through the narrow dingy streets with their
overhanging houses that made a pleasant shade, past the quarters of the
tinsmiths and the jewelers, the tailors and the sandal-makers. Naomi
looked eagerly in at the gay bazaars piled high with fine linens and
embroideries, rich scarves and veils, spices and coffee, dried fruits
and nuts. On they went, past the street of the potters where anything
might be bought, from water-jars as tall as Naomi herself to the tiny
cup-shaped Virgin's lamps which, filled with sweet oil, were carried by
the Jewish girls.

"Look well about thee, child," instructed Aunt Miriam from behind her
veil. "We shall not come this way again."

"I can tell it all now to Ezra," answered Naomi confidently. "I have
not forgotten a single sight. So far I liked it best of all when the
great Pharisee gave alms to the poor in the market-place just now, when
we were waiting there for Jacob. I liked it when his servant blew upon
the trumpet, and the poor came hurrying, and every one turned to look.
And next best I liked the cages of sparrows for sale. We have them in
the market-place at home, but not so many nor so fat. And next--"

"And next," interrupted her aunt with a smile, "thou wouldst like thy
dinner, perhaps. Here is the home of Simon's sister Anna, and verily I
believe her little Martha is watching for us through the wicket in the
gate."

Little Martha, with the help of the porter, threw open the gate before
Aunt Miriam could say another word, and Naomi stepped through a
passageway under the house into a courtyard with a tiny fountain
playing in the center and a palm growing on either side of it.

Little Martha was as fair as Naomi was dark. She had light reddish hair
and blue eyes, and well pleased was her mother that it should be so, for
this was called "King David's coloring" and was supposed to have been
that of the great King himself. She wore a soft little robe of white and
a fine gold chain about her neck. She joyfully led the visitors to her
mother who was waiting for them at the end of the court.

"Come in, thou blessed of the Lord," was the gracious greeting Anna gave
them, and she ushered them up the stairs and into a room that actually
had two windows cut in the side. They were the first windows Naomi had
ever looked from, and she held tight to the sill for fear of falling
into the street below.

"I would that I had windows in my house," thought Naomi ruefully. "I
would be so proud if I were Martha. But then she has no brother Ezra nor
baby Jonas to play with her."

In spite of the windows little Martha did not seem at all proud. She
helped her mother bring bowls of water for the guests to wash in, and
when the meal was ready she patted the plump cushions into shape on the
divans placed before the gayly painted table.

"Sit by me," she whispered to Naomi, breaking off a neat three-cornered
piece of barley cake which was to serve Naomi as knife and fork and
spoon.

For dinner there was a dish of young kid stewed with olives, hot barley
cakes, fresh and dried fruit--apricots, figs, pomegranates--and a bowl
of amber honey.

Not an easy thing is it to serve one's self with neatness and dispatch
without knife or fork, and only one's fingers and a bit of bread to
rely upon. But Naomi and Martha were able to dip their food from the
common dish with a bit of barley cake quite as nicely as the grown
people did, and they sat quiet and respectful while Aunt Miriam told of
Simon's illness and the reason for this trip to Jerusalem.

When the meal was over, Martha ran for fresh bowls of water, for the
Jews were careful to wash both before and after eating, and as Naomi
dabbled her fingers daintily Martha whispered to her:

"Mother says we are all to go about the twelfth hour, in the cool of the
day, to show thee the Temple and to see King Herod's garden. Oh! Oh!"

And she squeezed her new friend's arm with such fervor that the pretty
bowl was barely saved from falling to the floor.

Later in the day when the first evening breezes were drifting down the
dark ravines that swept round the city, the little party of sight-seers
slowly climbed the steep lanes that led toward Mount Moriah on which the
Temple stood. Built of white marble and glittering with gold, it dazzled
the eyes of little village-bred Naomi and made her heart thrill as she
gazed up the flights of steps at the very House of God.

It was a flat-roofed, oblong building, this Temple of the Hebrews,
divided within by a curtain of the finest work into two great rooms, the
Holy of Holies and the Holy Place.

The Holy of Holies was the dwelling-place of the Most High, never to be
trodden, never to be seen, except upon the rarest occasions, by mortal
man. It was now bare and empty, since the loss years before, in the war
with Babylon, of the Ark with its Mercy Seat and two golden cherubim.

In the outer chamber, the Holy Place, lying to the east, stood the
golden candlestick bearing seven lamps, the golden table of shew bread
with its twelve loaves arranged in two rows, and the golden Altar of
Incense, having thirteen spices burning night and day to signify that
all the produce of the earth belongs to God. In the huge doorway of this
room, where only the priests might enter, and facing the sunrise, hung a
second curtain or veil of fine linen richly embroidered in blue and
scarlet, purple and flax. These colors were meant to be an image of the
world. The scarlet represented fire, the flax earth, the blue sky, and
the purple sea. Along the wall ran golden vines and clusters of the
grape, the typical plant of Israel.

All this Naomi could picture perfectly so often had she heard it
described, but she saw it with the eye of her mind only, for the women
of Israel had a court set apart for them many flights below the Temple
building itself and at the east of the men's Court of the Israelites, as
it was called.

Martha stood at the little girl's elbow, gazing about, too, but not with
the same eager interest that Naomi showed, since a visit to the Temple
was no great rarity to her.

"Thou shouldst see the Temple at Passover, Naomi," she murmured; "the
crowds of people, and the priests at sunrise upon the walls blowing a
thousand silver trumpets, and the long procession in the streets
carrying the lambs for the offering."

"Father hath promised to bring us all next Passover," Naomi answered
happily. "But now I long mightily to see the great Altar of Burnt
Offering in the Court of the Priests. It is made of unhewn stone, Ezra
says, and there, too, stands the bronze basin where the priests wash
hands and feet before entering the Holy Place. Ezra has learned all
about it at school. I long to see it."

Little Martha shook her head.

"Nay," she murmured reprovingly, "that is not a sight for me and thee. I
have seen the smoke rising--that is all."

Naomi stared up at the great group of buildings--courts, halls,
cloisters, terraces, and walls, topped by the splendid golden front of
the Holy Place, in silent awe.

"If once I should lose sight of Aunt Miriam," she thought, "I might
wander about here for days and days and never find her again."

And she took such a firm hold upon her aunt's cloak that she, feeling
the tug, thought the little girl was impatient to move on.

"Yes, child, yes," said she. "We go down now into the Court of the
Gentiles. Do thou and little Martha walk on ahead. Pick thy way
carefully, for this flight of steps is steep."

The Court of the Gentiles was open to the men of all nations, since it
was not strictly a part of the Temple. It was a sort of sacred
market-place, and Naomi and little Martha, as they walked about, held
tight to one another when they passed the pens of sheep and oxen
destined to be burnt offerings, and which were restlessly shouldering
one another and lowing and bleating as if in some way they sensed their
approaching doom. Here the seller of doves and pigeons kept his cotes,
for many a worshiper could not afford to buy a kid or a lamb. Here, too,
were the booths and stalls of the moneychangers who did a brisk trade,
since no coin might be offered in the Temple save the sacred shekel.

"Art thou ready at last to leave the Temple, child?" asked Aunt Miriam,
coming up behind Naomi as she stood gazing in at a penful of young
lambs. "Wilt thou be able to tell all this to Ezra, think you?"

Naomi nodded slowly. She was not listening to what her aunt said. She
was wondering why at times the sheep looked so strangely blurred, and
why little black specks seemed to dance before her eyes.

"Over there is a little lamb that looks like my Three Legs, Aunt
Miriam," said she. "I am glad he is not here, shut up in one of these
great pens, and to die, perhaps, before another day."

She moved listlessly along, and when her aunt took her hand she clung to
her so heavily that good Aunt Miriam stopped short on the side of the
hill.

"What ails thee, child?" said she, bending over Naomi. "Thou art not
like thyself. Thine eyes look strangely heavy, even like those of
little Three Legs. Art thou ill?"

"Nay," said Naomi crossly. Surely to have sudden pains shoot through
one's eyes was not to be ill. "I would see the gardens of King Herod.
That is what I want."

"The child is weary," said little Martha's mother kindly. "She has had a
long journey to-day besides this visit to the Temple. The gardens of
King Herod will wait for thee, Naomi, until another time when thou art
rested. They will not run away."

But Naomi would not smile at this little joke. She pulled pettishly away
when good friend Anna placed her hand upon her forehead to see if she
were feverish.

"I would see the gardens of King Herod," she repeated plaintively,
rubbing her eyes as she spoke. "Ezra saw them, with rivers and flowers
and fountains. He saw doves and pigeons flying through the air. He saw a
great beast that spouted water from its mouth, and I would fain see it,
too."

The magnificent gardens of the King of Judea were open all day long to
any one who wished to enter and enjoy their beauty, their coolness, and
their shade. Canals flowed between green banks, flowers bloomed and
trees rustled, fountains played in the sunlight, and tiny fish darted
hither and thither in the artificial pools. But there, too, bright
against the green, was to be seen the white marble of statues--nymphs,
and dryads, figures symbolizing grace and beauty--and for this reason,
since to him all statues were idols, no Jew would set foot within King
Herod's garden.

All that Naomi could hope to do, beside gazing at the three famous
castles of white marble, with their battlements and turrets, built by
Herod the Great, and at his own splendid palace with its massive walls
and towers, was to peep at the garden through the open gateways or
perhaps from the top of the wall, as Ezra had done.

But Aunt Miriam, with sturdy common sense, had no intention of taking
the weary and ailing little girl on the long trip across Cheesemonger's
Valley from the Mount of the Temple to Mount Zion where the palaces
stood. She beckoned to Jacob who had walked near them all the way, and
when he came forward she said:

"Carry the little maid home, Jacob. She is exceedingly weary and needs a
night's rest."

Naomi, without a protest, turned to Jacob and gladly hid her heavy,
aching eyes upon his broad shoulder.

"I am like Three Legs," thought Naomi, as the procession moved
homeward. "But then Three Legs has been sick a long, long time, and I
shall be well in the morning."



CHAPTER IV

IN THE DARK


"Mother, is it sunrise yet?"

"No, Naomi, it but nears the end of the Third Watch."

"Mother, does the lamp still burn?"

"Yes, child, as always, on the table. Lie still, Naomi, and try to
sleep. Thou hast a journey before thee to-day."

"Aye," said the little girl, turning restlessly on her quilt. "I know,
to the Pool of Bethesda. Perhaps I shall come home with opened eyes,
Mother. Perhaps I shall see when I come home to-day. Dost thou believe
that the Angel of the Pool will open mine eyes?"

"Yea, child, I do believe," answered her mother earnestly. "Thou shalt
see again. I hope it with all my heart."

"And then I shall help thee once more about the house," said Naomi
hopefully, "and learn my lesson every day, and care for baby Jonas when
thou art busy. Then I shall run and wait upon my father as of old, and
he will place his hand upon my head and say, 'Naomi, thou art as quick
and light upon thy feet as a young hart or doe.' That he cannot say now
and speak the truth. But this very day it may be I shall have my sight
again."

And with this hope to comfort her, Naomi lay quietly down upon her bed
and let her thoughts go back to her last trip to Jerusalem and its sad
homecoming.

She remembered the long ride in the jolting bullock cart, which Jacob
guided as carefully as he knew how in order to spare Naomi's aching head
and throbbing eyeballs.

For the night's rest had not cured Naomi. She had awakened with swollen
eyelids that were so heavy she could not hold them up, and sharp little
stabs of pain had caused her to moan and twist in the arms of kind Aunt
Miriam who held her tenderly on the long homeward ride.

Then came days and nights of pain, and a visit from one of the great
doctors of Palestine who ordered poultices of earth mixed with the
saliva of one who had been long fasting. And when Naomi could no longer
bear the heavy weight of this remedy upon her tortured eyes, he kindly
changed the poultice to one of owl's brains, as being not only more
comfortable but a trifle quicker in its action.

At last the day arrived when Naomi was free from pain, but when also,
alas! as she raised her head weakly and looked about, she did not see
the familiar room with its carved chest and gay cushions and little
table pushed against the wall, she did not see the loving anxious faces
of her father and mother and Ezra, but only a black curtain dotted with
blacker stars that danced and winked and danced again.

"I cannot see thee! Where art thou, Mother? Is it night? How black it
is! Oh, am I blind?"

And Naomi clung fast to her father and mother as if they must save her
from this dreadful fate.

"Blind!" thought her mother, remembering with a shudder the numberless
figures that stretched pitiful hands by the Bethlehem roadside. "My
little Naomi, blind?"

"An amulet will cure her," said worried Samuel stoutly. "Be not
downhearted, my little maid. Thy father will buy for thee an amulet that
will open those brown eyes of thine wider than ever before."

So Naomi wore about her neck for weeks a small three-cornered bag, in
which was sewn a scrap of parchment taken from a religious book, written
after certain rules and with a diagram so mysterious that not even
Samuel could understand it.

And how were the contents of this little three-cornered bag to restore
Naomi's eyesight? Why, by charming away the wicked spirit who had cast
an evil eye upon her. Or perhaps Naomi had chanced to rub her eyes upon
waking before she had washed her hands. Being unclean, the devil present
had slipped from her fingers into her eyes, and now must be charmed out
again by the holy words about her neck.

Not a thought that Naomi, daily handling sick little Three Legs, might
have caught the malady that first darkened the vision of the poor little
animal, and then caused the frail life to flicker out altogether.

Naomi missed her pet sorely, but its death was only one more grief added
to the burden that overshadowed all her days.

She could no longer play in the garden. Her well, begun so happily, was
neglected, though not forgotten, and little Jonas was the leader now,
guiding her faltering steps with such good-will that Naomi forgave him
when he led her straight into the orange-tree or neglected to warn her
that the myrtle bush was in her path.

Her friends Rachel and Rebekah had deserted her, for at the first
mention of the evil eye they had looked askance, and now they never came
to play nor to entertain her with their talk.

Little lame Enoch proved a faithful friend, and Naomi felt comfortable
with him as a playmate, for he, too, suffered from a handicap and yet
was cheerful and gay notwithstanding. He knew a host of stories told him
by his old grandmother, and the long hours slipped away quickly while
their little tongues chattered, though their hands and feet were
pathetically still.

But of all the comfort Naomi knew, apart from the love of her father and
mother, the companionship of Ezra was the greatest. He amused her, he
waited upon her, he revived her drooping spirits with his own high hopes
and plans for her.

"Thou shalt see again, Naomi," he would declare confidently. "All the
cures have not been tried yet. Thou art _not_ like the beggars by the
roadside. Say not that again, or I will dip thee some day in the well
behind the myrtle bush that thou wilt be digging ere long. Most of the
wayside beggars are old men with not an eyeball left, whilst thou,
Naomi, art young, and thine eyes from without look as clear and strong
as mine. Wait until my father has taken thee to the Pool of Bethesda!
Have patience, Naomi! Thou shalt see again!"

The Bethesda Pool lay in Jerusalem on the Temple mount, a stone's throw
from the Sheep Gate of the Court of the Gentiles, where Naomi had
lingered before the sheep-pens on the afternoon that now seemed so far
away.

Perhaps in these days we should say that the great pool contained a
mineral spring, but in Naomi's time it was not doubted that an angel had
wrought the cures that were told far and wide of this "well of healing."
About it were always clustered the sick, the lame, the halt, and the
blind, in the belief that when the angel troubled the waters the first
to dip himself therein would be healed.

So Samuel the weaver purposed to take Naomi thither, and, even while
the little girl lay thinking long, long thoughts and wishing for
daybreak, the moments slipped by, the Fourth Watch or Morning came, and
Naomi's mother rose to prepare the meal so the travelers might have an
early start.

A stout little donkey, borrowed from the khan stable, carried Naomi and
her father briskly over the familiar Jerusalem highway. The little girl
remembered how happy she had been on her journey with Aunt Miriam and
how all the world had seemed gay that morning. Then she recalled the
"tap, tap, tap" of the blind men on the road, and she hid her face in
her father's cloak and trembled.

"O that the Angel of the Pool may open my eyes!" prayed Naomi. "O that
the Angel of the Pool may open my eyes!"

The Pool of Bethesda was a pretty spot. About it had been built five
porches, and in their shelter lay the sick and the withered, the lame
and the blind, waiting for a chance to push their way in the moment the
waters began to move.

When Naomi and her father arrived, the pool lay still in the sunlight,
so Samuel established himself close to the edge with his arm about
Naomi, and fell into conversation with a professional letter-writer who
sat, bearded and grave, with ink-horn fastened at his side.

"Thy little maid has felt the hand of the Lord?" queried the
letter-writer, looking compassionately at Naomi who stood picking with
nervous fingers at her father's sleeve.

Samuel nodded sadly. In a few words he told the story of Naomi's
trouble.

"She is indeed grievously afflicted," observed the letter-writer,
shaking his gray head and uttering a sigh. "And my friend here, whom I
come to lift into the pool, has lain helpless upon his bed for eight and
twenty years. O that the Messiah would come! 'Then the eyes of the blind
shall be opened and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall
the lame man leap as a hart and the tongue of the dumb shall sing.'"

"Think you the Messiah will come shortly?" inquired Samuel.

This was a burning question of the day. The desire for the coming of the
Kingdom of God was a flame that was consuming the Jewish nation.

The letter-writer tapped his forehead thoughtfully with a brown
forefinger.

"Thou knowest the saying of the Pharisees, that if all Israel could keep
the Law perfectly for a single day, Messiah would come. As for me, I
long with a mighty longing to see Israel restored, to be delivered from
our enemies, and to have our sins forgiven."

Naomi stirred restlessly. What did all this talk of a Messiah mean to
her? Well enough for the grown folk to look forward to the coming of a
Saviour. As for her, all she asked of all the world was that the Angel
of the Bethesda Pool might come with healing in his wings and lay his
cool fingers upon her closed eyes and open them again.

"Perhaps I shall see Mother's face to-night," she thought. "And Ezra
will be at the village gate waiting for me. He promised. And I am to
wave my girdle at the first turn in the road if my eyes are opened. O
Angel of the Pool, remember me, Naomi! Remember me here in the dark!"

Naomi's father, who had never taken his eyes from the pool, leaned
forward.

"It moves, Naomi," he whispered. "The Angel comes, although we see him
not. Be ready, for I must act quickly."

The surface of the pool began to heave and swell, and at the precise
moment that the water boiled up, Samuel bent over with Naomi in his arms
and dipped her head under the water once, twice, three times!

Dripping, sputtering, and crying, Naomi was placed upon her feet, while
her father endeavored to wipe away the water that ran down into her neck
and stained her little robe.

"Dost thou see, Naomi?" asked Samuel with a tremble in his voice. "Open
thine eyes and look! Dost thou see, my little pomegranate?"

If the Angel of the Pool failed them, where should he turn for help?

Naomi obediently opened her brown eyes and stared, sightless as ever,
into her father's face.

The Angel of the Pool had failed them!



CHAPTER V

ALL THE WORLD COMES VISITING


It was the winter season in Palestine.

In the darkness and despair that followed her trip to the Pool of
Bethesda, Naomi had not cared what the weather might be. She had
listened with indifference to the whistling, roaring wind-storm that had
come suddenly one night in October telling the weather-wise that summer
was over and the rainy season at hand.

Huddled over the brazier of charcoal that smouldered under a rug in a
shallow hole in the middle of the floor, Naomi had not heeded the wild
dash of rain against the house nor its melancholy dripping in the
deserted garden. Even the excitement of Ezra and Jonas over a slight
fall of snow, the first either one had ever seen, had failed to rouse
her.

Samuel and his wife were troubled beyond words at this calamity that
had come upon their child. Aunt Miriam and Simon were sympathetic, but
could offer no advice. Ezra was at his wits' ends, for all his schemes
and devices to amuse failed, and the hollow words of encouragement died
upon his honest lips.

Samuel, too, had a fresh worry of which Naomi knew nothing, and which,
slight though it was in comparison with the little girl's misfortune,
did not tend to make the daily life of the family more pleasant.

"Aye, Samuel the weaver's child is blind," said the neighbors, wagging
their heads in knowing fashion. "What sin hath he committed, think you,
that this calamity befalls him? Truly the way of the transgressor is
hard."

"It may be that his wife is the sinner," was whispered about. "Or
perhaps both."

And little by little the village people turned aside when they saw
Samuel coming, and fewer and fewer were the friendly words said to
Naomi's mother when she went patiently down to the fountain for her
supply of water.

Ezra felt himself more fortunate than the grown people, for at the first
unkind word from his former friend, fat Solomon across the road, he had
flown at him in a fury, and had shortly enjoyed the satisfaction of
seeing his blubbering enemy lick the dust.

"Mole, indeed!" shouted Ezra, doubling up his fists. "Thou wilt call my
sister a blind mole, wilt thou? Thou serpent, feeding upon the dust!
Thou snake! Rise not up or I will rub thy nose in the dirt again."

So cautious Solomon, having learned his lesson well, was forced to
content himself with calling names from behind the wall, which Ezra was
prompt to answer with sticks and stones.

No one was happy in the little household, and faces were sober and
voices hushed as they went about their tasks, until one day Aunt Miriam
called Ezra and whispered in his ear. His eyes opened wide and his face
brightened, and for more than a week he neglected his friends, the
shepherds, and spent all his spare time at the khan.

Then, one afternoon, when the rain had ceased and the little olive
leaves glistened in the cold bright light, Naomi's mother approached the
forlorn little figure crouched in a corner and raised her to her feet.

"Here is thy warm cloak, beloved," said she, coaxingly, laying her hand
on the soft brown curls that seemed to hang limply now that Naomi never
tossed them back with a proud little shake of the head. "Before the door
stand thy aunt, thy father, and thy brother. They wait for thee. And,
little Naomi, there waits a surprise for thee also. Come and listen by
the doorway."

From behind the door Naomi heard an unfamiliar stamping, a running
about, and Ezra's excited voice.

"Be careful, Jonas," called Ezra sharply. "Wilt thou be stepped on?
Stand from under. Naomi, where art thou? Mother! Oh, she comes! Aunt
Miriam, Father, she comes!"

Naomi's mother led out the white-faced little girl and Samuel took her
gently by the hand.

"A gift for thee, little Naomi," said he, smiling more happily than in
many a long day, "from thy good Aunt Miriam. Put out thy hand and
guess."

Naomi stretched out a timid hand and touched a soft furry nose.

"A donkey!" said Naomi. "To take me for a ride!"

"Aye," burst out Ezra, his face shining with unselfish joy; "to take
thee for a ride every day and everywhere. Up and down the hills and
roundabout. We shall go everywhere together, thou and I."

"Speak more plainly, Ezra," said Aunt Miriam, seeing the puzzled look
upon his sister's face. "The donkey is thine, Naomi. Thy Uncle Simon and
I have given it to thee. Ezra means that he will take thee riding upon
it whenever and wherever thou wilt. No longer shalt thou lurk in the
house with white cheeks from sunrise to sunrise. We shall have thee as
rosy as a poppy again ere long."

And her tender-hearted aunt first wiped her brimming eyes upon the
corner of her veil, and then caught back Jonas by his leather pinafore
from under the donkey's heels, where he seemed determined to meet with a
speedy death.

"Now the trick!" cried Ezra, who had been hopping from foot to foot
during his aunt's long speech. "Have I not been teaching him for more
than a week? Say thy lesson well, little donkey! Stand here before him,
Naomi!"

Samuel placed Naomi in position.

"Thy donkey's name, Naomi," went on Ezra, "is Michmash, because he comes
from the town of that name. Now place thy hands upon the tips of his
ears. Do not pinch or he will kick. I know."

Samuel guided the little girl's hands until they rested upon the tips of
the long gray ears.

"Now say his name slowly," instructed Ezra, his face aglow.

"Mich," said Naomi, and down came a furry ear, "mash," and down came the
other.

Then the little donkey winked both ears violently, and turned a patient
eye upon his young teacher as if asking praise.

"He did it! He did it!" cried the teacher. "He did not forget his
lesson and he will do it every time. Michmash!" And as the long ears
fell again, Ezra threw his arms about Naomi and hugged her close.

"Wilt thou come for a ride with me now?" he whispered. "The sun shines
and the wind blows and it will be pleasant out upon the hills."

So seated upon the back of Michmash, Naomi rode off, with such a bright
look upon her wan face that her father and mother could not help
thinking that better days were in store for them all.

Every pleasant day Ezra, leading Michmash, took Naomi, wrapped in her
little scarlet cloak, out riding, and as they moved along in the crisp,
bracing air they talked--long, long talks of what they were passing, of
Ezra's day at school, or of the thoughts and fancies that filled Naomi's
active little mind.

"Ezra," said she one day, as Michmash felt his way securely up the side
of one of the stony little Judean hills, "Ezra, dost thou remember what
was told thee that the letter-writer said that day by the Pool of
Bethesda?"

Her lip trembled as she spoke, but Ezra answered her instantly.

"Yea," said he, "I do, indeed. He spoke of the Messiah."

"And what think you of the Messiah?" asked Naomi timidly. "What think
you he will do when he cometh, Ezra? Dost think that he will open the
eyes of the blind?"

Ezra, in order to speak more earnestly, halted Michmash, who gladly fell
to cropping the coarse grass.

"The Messiah, Naomi," said Ezra slowly, "will do what the prophet Isaiah
promised of him. Never fear. He will open the eyes of the blind and
unstop the ears of the deaf. He will make the lame man leap and the
dumb man sing for joy. When he cometh, we shall all see the salvation of
the Lord and our sins shall be forgiven us. All Israel shall rejoice.
Aye, even stout Solomon also," added Ezra grimly. "The Kingdom of God
will come, and the Messiah will rule in righteousness, and he shall put
our enemies to flight. No longer then will we pay tribute to the Emperor
Cæsar Augustus at Rome. No longer will we tolerate the wicked King Herod
in our city of Jerusalem. And the Roman eagle that hangs above our
Temple gates will be torn down and trampled under foot."

Ezra spoke warmly. He had been well taught in school and synagogue, and
had listened carefully to his father and his friends as they talked in
the market-place and elsewhere.

"Oh, I would that the Messiah would come quickly," said Naomi
wistfully. "And if he can make me see, he can make lame Enoch straight.
I would that Enoch's old grandmother had not died and that he had not
gone so far away to live as Jericho. I miss him."

"Think now of this new numbering of all the world," went on Ezra, whose
heart burned within him at the wrongs of his nation. "Every man must
travel to the town whence his family sprang, whether he live near or far
and whether or no he be rich enough to stand a journey. And why? Because
the Emperor at Rome has ordered so. I stood in the market-place when the
Roman heralds with their trumpets summoned all Bethlehem thither, and
told of this new enrollment and of the taxing to follow. I saw the black
looks and heard the muttering, but did any man speak out? Nay--afeard of
the short sword the Roman soldier carries. Oh, aye, I am afeard of it
myself," admitted Ezra indulgently; "but when the Messiah cometh things
will not be so."

"Mother says that many have already traveled to Bethlehem to be
enrolled," said Naomi, "and that we shall have a houseful when the
caravan from Nazareth comes in. I would fain be a help to her just now
and not a trouble, but I can do nothing at all, nothing, only keep out
of the way." And the tears rolled down poor Naomi's cheeks.

"Do not cry," said Ezra pitifully, and with a patience wonderful in a
boy of his years. "We all love thee, Naomi, better than if thou hadst
the sharp sight of an eagle. Come, greedy one," he went on, pulling at
Michmash's bridle. "Wilt thou eat all night? Come!"

They stood upon a hill that looked toward the north, and as Ezra waited
for lazy little Michmash to finish his mouthful, his eye caught a line
of tiny black figures perhaps a mile away from Bethlehem village.

"The caravan from Nazareth, I verily believe!" he exclaimed. "Hold fast,
Naomi, and I will take thee down to the gate. There I will tell thee all
the sights as they come in."

Rattling over the stones and down the steep paths in reckless fashion,
the little brother and sister were soon established in a spot where Ezra
could see all that was needful, and whisper what he saw in Naomi's ear.

"It is the caravan from Nazareth," he announced, "and they ride on
horses, camels, mules, but some walk. There are great numbers of them
and more are still to come. Some have fallen behind, they say, and are
far back upon the road. They are very weary and they smile but little.
Who would want to take the long journey in winter only to part with
money in the end?"

When Ezra and Naomi reached home, they found that, as their mother had
said, their house was full to overflowing with company from the Nazareth
caravan.

Abner and Joel, merchants of Nazareth, were there with Joel's son Amos
and his wife Elisabeth. Samuel's cousin, Daniel, who owned a large farm
in fruitful Galilee, had come, bringing with him as a matter of course
his friends, David and Phineas, neighboring farmers. All these people
had originally sprung from this city of David, and now back they came to
it, some in good, some in ill humor, but to a man obeying the command of
the Emperor at Rome.

Every inch of floor space in Samuel's little house was occupied that
night when the soft quilts were spread out, and the family and their
guests lay down to rest. Naomi and Jonas were cuddled in a corner next
their mother. But when Ezra came in late from feeding Michmash, the dim
light of the little oil lamp, that burned each night in all but the
poorest of Jewish homes, showed him a floor so crowded with soundly
sleeping guests that he knew not how to reach his own bed spread at his
father's right hand.

"Father!" whispered Ezra.

"My son," answered Samuel in a cautious voice.

"Father, it is so crowded here I would fain spend the night with old Eli
in the fields with the sheep. They are encamped below the khan in the
Fields of David. May I go? Old Eli said but yesterday that I had
neglected him of late."

"Go, my son. Give greetings to old Eli, and God's peace attend thee."

So Ezra slipped out under the dark starry sky to join the shepherds
abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.



CHAPTER VI

THE SHEPHERDS


Ezra picked his way carefully down the dark Bethlehem lanes until he
reached the town gate, swung shut and locked hours before at sunset.

"Nathan! Nathan!" he called, until the old gate-keeper peered out from
his little booth and muttered a friendly greeting to the lad.

"Nathan, I would go down into the fields with shepherd Eli to-night,"
explained Ezra politely. "Wilt thou not let me pass through the strait
gate? Just this once! I will never ask thee again. Old Eli is thy friend
and mine. Do the favor for him, I beg of thee, and I will bless thee all
my days."

Nathan could not help laughing at the old-fashioned speech of the boy.

"Whether I do it for thee or for shepherd Eli, the deed is done," he
cackled, and threw open the small gate standing beside the large one and
known as the "strait" gate. "Ask me not again, I warn thee; ask me not
again."

Past the Bethlehem khan Ezra hurried, and down through the piece of
fertile land that lay to the east, where the reapers of Boaz had swung
their rude sickles and where Ruth had gleaned the golden sheaves. A walk
of two miles brought him to the pasture land where the shepherd lad
David had watched his father's sheep, battling with lion and bear when
the need arose, and where, too, many of his sweetest songs had been
written.

The boy scurried along at a good pace, for on these dark and lonely
roads to meet with wolf or jackal or, still more terrifying, with
robbers, singly or in bands, was not unknown.

At the end of the road Ezra peered about in the starlight until he
could distinguish a number of dark forms huddled before one of the caves
in the hillside. Within the shallow cave lay the flock asleep, and
before it, on his rough bed of brushwood and rushes, sat shepherd Eli,
with only a dog or two to keep him company. Beside him lay his
shepherd's crook, his club tipped with iron the better to protect his
charges, and his sling with which he was wont to throw stones just
beyond his sheep to bring them back when they were going astray.

Ezra chose to leap over the rude stone wall that enclosed this sheepfold
instead of passing through the narrow gateway. The two great sheep dogs,
gaunt and rough, who had spied him on the edge of the pasture land long
before he had seen them, leaped fawning upon him with sharp yelps of
affection.

"Down! Down!" cried Ezra, half laughing, half impatient. "Eli, my
father sends thee greeting. As for me, I would fain spend the night with
thee here in the fields. I am crowded out of my father's house by
visitors from Nazareth who come to be listed for the census. I will make
myself useful, Eli. Perhaps thou canst steal a nap while I keep watch of
the sheep. But why art thou alone to-night? Where are the other
shepherds? And the dogs?"

"Aye, aye," responded shepherd Eli, slowly wagging his head and drawing
his sheepskin cloak about him. "Thou art always welcome, lad. As for
sleep, never at cockcrow was I more wakeful than at this moment
to-night. For there is something strange in the air, lad. The very dogs
feel it. They lie quiet and still; they neither twist nor turn. Whether
it be that friend or foe approaches, I know not. Something beyond our
ken is a-wing to-night."

"But, Eli," said Ezra, "if it were wolves or jackals, the dogs would be
barking. And where are the other shepherds? Wilt thou battle alone if
the wild beasts come?"

"Nay, child, nay," said Eli patiently. "I look not for wild beasts
to-night, nor do the dogs expect their ancient enemy. Thou sayest truly,
like a wise little shepherd, that they behave not thus when wolf or
jackal is abroad. The other shepherds read not the signs as do I.
Thieves lurk near at hand, say they, and with the dogs they go to rout
them out."

"What dost thou expect, Eli?" asked Ezra timidly. He was thrilled and
frightened and thrilled in turn at this talk.

The old man sat with his face turned to the brilliant Oriental sky
powdered thick with stars.

"'He numbereth the stars, He calleth them all by name,'" said Eli
softly. "Expect? Child, I know not what I expect except that He who hath
promised us salvation from our enemies and remission of our sins shall
keep His holy word. And there are signs that the time draws near. Surely
thou hast heard of the priest Zacharias, who was smitten dumb as he
served in the Temple, and of the birth of his son John who, it is
promised, is to go before the face of the Lord to make ready His ways.
Who made the promise? Who but the Angel of the Lord, Gabriel, who stands
in the presence of God. Think you his word shall fail? Nay, I tell thee
the times are ripe."

"But Eli--" Ezra began in his shrill little voice, when the old shepherd
cut him short with a sudden gesture.

"The men return," muttered Eli. "Once already to-night they have heard
what they term 'an old man's babbling.' Let us listen to their story
now."

"How many thieves caught ye, friends?" he called out. "Did ye surprise
the enemy in his lair?"

The shepherds filed in through the narrow opening and threw themselves
heavily on the ground beside Eli and the lad. The dogs crouched low,
with nose between paws, and closed their eyes.

"Thieves? Nay," said one of the shepherds brusquely. "We saw naught
amiss, and had but the walk for our pains."

The shepherds wrapped their heavy woolen mantles about them and talked
together in low voices. No one seemed disposed to sleep, though the
day's work had been hard and all needed a night's rest. Ezra sat silent,
thinking of old Eli's words and scarce hearing the conversation that
went on about him.

Suddenly the old shepherd grasped Ezra's arm. One of the younger men
was speaking.

"The night has grown so still," said he. "Note ye that the wind dies
down and that a hush falls o'er all?"

His voice ended on a trembling note. He covered his face with his mantle
and fell forward among his prostrate companions. Only old Eli, with his
arm about shaking little Ezra, held his white head erect--joyous,
confident, trustful.

For an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord shone
round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them:

"Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which
shall be to all the people: for there is born to you this day in the
city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this is the sign
unto you: Ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying
in a manger."

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host
praising God, and saying:

  "Glory to God in the highest,
  On earth peace, good will toward men."

Ezra, strengthened by Eli's arm which did not waver, ventured to open
his eyes.

He saw a brilliant whiteness, clear as crystal, that seemed to light the
world from end to end. High above, the sky was filled with clouds of
rose and amber and amethyst. All the glories of sunrise and of sunset
were mingled there.

Did he catch a flutter of white pinions? Did he glimpse a Leader,
majestic, terrible, yet radiant with gracious love?

Even as he stared, unable to move, the song grew fainter, the colors
faded and vanished.

The echo of the angels' song rang in his ears. To his dying day it
would haunt his memory.

The muffled figures on the ground stirred and stood erect.

Overhead burned the stars in the frosty sky.

The silence was broken by old Eli.

"Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing that is come to
pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us."

Over the rough, uneven ground hastened the shepherds. Their flocks for
once were left uncared for, save by the dogs. They pressed on across the
familiar pasture land, up and over the cornfields, and then took the
sharp rise that would lead them past the Bethlehem inn.

Clinging to the hillside and facing the cornfields was the stable of the
inn, a rough cave in the limestone rock. On a rope stretched across the
wide entrance swung a lantern, whose dim light twinkled and flickered
before the eyes of the shepherds as they came up the hill.

Old Eli quickened his pace, Ezra at his heels.

"And this is the sign unto you: Ye shall find a babe wrapped in
swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger."

The boy knew that the inn was crowded to overflowing, as was his own and
every house in Bethlehem that night. Was it possible that this familiar
manger was the resting-place to-night of a Heavenly Guest? Were
strangers lodged in the stable? Was this the only shelter that could be
offered the latest arrivals of the Nazareth caravan because there was no
room at the inn?

At the stable entrance Ezra hung back. He saw a man come forward out of
the shadows and talk with Eli. With a single gesture the old shepherd
motioned his companions to join him. Lost for a moment in the gloom,
Ezra saw them again speaking, bending forward, then falling upon their
knees.

The stars had faded and an early morning wind was blowing chill when at
last the shepherds made their way out of the stable. The lamp, still
swinging, burned pale in the dawn, but its faint light fell across the
white face of a little boy who lurked in the doorway and whose cold hand
clutched old Eli as he came exulting forth.

"Praise God! Praise God for His mercy, justice, and truth! Praise--"

Old Eli started at the cold touch, and looked down with eyes that glowed
with an inward light.

"Child, what doest thou here? Hinder me not. I go now to spread the
good tidings--to praise and to glorify God."

Ezra opened his dry lips.

"Hast found Him?" he asked. "Is it the Messiah? Is it the Christ?"

"Aye, child, 'tis as the angel said," answered Eli happily; "a babe
wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. Come to bring peace on
earth, our Saviour who is Christ the Lord, our long-looked-for Messiah!
Glory to God in the highest! Glory!"

Ezra heard no more. He had turned, and with the speed of an arrow from
its bow was running up the steep road toward home.



CHAPTER VII

IN A MANGER


The rising sun pushed through a bank of purple cloud and touched with
long rosy beams the roof of Samuel the weaver's house. On the narrow
parapet that bordered the roof walked a number of snowy pigeons,
stepping delicately with heads raised and thrown back as if to enjoy the
splendor and freshness of the early morning.

In one corner of the roof lay a dark heap, heedless of sunlight, morning
breeze, or bird, conscious only of the blackest misery, the deepest
hopelessness that an eight-year-old heart can know.

It was Naomi, who lay with hands clenched and face pressed against the
cold stone, too heartsick for tears, wishing only in her wretchedness
to creep away where she might be alone.

Presently she stirred and lifted her head.

Quite a different Naomi was this from the happy, generous child who had
sacrificed her flower garden for the sake of an ailing lamb; not at all
like the little girl who had set forth so joyfully for a day's pleasure
in Jerusalem. Her little robe was wrinkled, her curls were tangled and
rough, her face was pinched and pitiful. With her soft little fist she
beat upon the roof in time with the rhythm of her words.

"Did they think I could not hear?" she asked, speaking aloud in her
fullness of heart. "Did Elisabeth, the wife of Amos, think that I was
deaf as well as blind that she should say aloud, 'The child Naomi will
never see again. There is no hope.'"

"No hope! No hope! And perhaps I shall live to be as old as lame
Enoch's grandmother lived to be. Who will care for me then? Who will
give me shelter and food? Amos of Nazareth thought of that, too. I heard
him, though he whispered low. 'She will be always a burden. It were
better that she should die.' I heard him. He said those words. 'She will
be always a burden. It were better that she should die.'"

"Die? Die? I cannot die. I am well and strong. I shall live and live and
live. My mother and father will die and leave me, and Ezra and Jonas
will weary of me. I shall be a beggar by the roadside. No hope! No
hope!"

Naomi sank down again in a little heap and rocked to and fro. Her
misfortune seemed too dreadful to be borne. It was incredible that such
a fate should overtake her. It might happen to Rachel, or Rebekah, or
to stout Solomon across the road, but not to Naomi, the daughter of
Samuel the weaver.

As she swayed back and forth, torn by her misery, there came to her,
like balm upon a wound, the familiar, comforting words that her mother
and father had used over and over of late, to soothe the little girl's
pain and to encourage hope in the sad hearts of them all.

  "I had fainted unless I had believed to see the goodness of Jehovah
  In the land of the living.
  Wait for Jehovah:
  Be strong, and let thy heart take courage;
  Yea, wait thou for Jehovah."

Naomi rose to her feet. The startled pigeons withdrew a short way and
stood watching her curiously with their hard, bright eyes. About her was
the soft sunlight, over her head the deep blue sky.

She turned her sightless face toward Jerusalem and spoke as if to a
friend present.

"Yea, Lord," said the little Jewish girl in simple faith, "I will wait
for Thee, and for Thy Messiah who will open the eyes of the blind.
Surely when Messiah cometh I shall see. And until then, I will wait and
pray for His coming. I will wait."

On the outer stairway that led from the ground to the roof stood Ezra,
breathless, his hand pressed against his side. He had run all the way,
without stopping, up the steep lanes from the Bethlehem stable, and now,
pausing to rest an instant before speaking to Naomi, he could not help
overhearing the last words she said.

"So thou wilt wait?" he whispered, his breath coming in gasps. "Thou
wilt wait for His coming? Nay, my little sister, thy time of waiting is
over. The Messiah is here! The Christ is born! O that I might shout it
from the housetop, that my father and mother and all the world may know
that the Lord hath kept His promise and the Messiah hath come!"

Ezra's whole heart and soul were full of a great new hope, and the sight
of Naomi's tear-stained face and groping, outstretched hands made him
long to tell her the good tidings at once.

But the boy's love for his unhappy little sister made him wise beyond
his years.

"If I tell her, and it does not come to pass as she wishes, it will
break her heart," he argued. "The Messiah is but a tiny Baby now, weak
and helpless. It may be He must grow to manhood before He can heal the
blind, the deaf, and the sick. Who knows? Not I. I will not tell her
yet."

So Ezra clattered noisily up the remaining steps of the stairway,
calling out:

"Naomi! Naomi! Where art thou? Oh, here thou art! Are thy sandals well
tied? For I have come to take thee down to the inn stable to show thee
something there. And what it is, thou couldst never guess if thou didst
guess a hundred years."

Naomi shook her head.

"Show me? What could I see? Nay, I will go nowhere, Ezra," she answered
sadly. "If I went, I could not see thy wondrous sight. I would far
rather stay at home."

"But this is something to feel," said Ezra coaxingly, putting his arm
about Naomi and leading her gently toward the stairway. "Tell me, dost
thou remember when young Deborah, the vine-dresser's wife, laid
something soft and warm in thine arms?"

"A baby, Ezra?" asked Naomi, stopping short. "A baby at the inn stable?"

"Aye," said Ezra firmly, "a Baby! A Baby born in a stable and lying in
a manger because there was no room last night at the inn."

"But I cannot see it, Ezra," said Naomi mournfully. "Why should I go? I
cannot see."

"Dost thou remember, too, how Deborah's baby clung to thy finger?" said
the crafty Ezra, guiding her tenderly down the steps as he talked. "And
did ye not find it pleasant to hold? You rocked it to and fro all day
long, Naomi. You said that you wished that Jonas might be put back in
swaddling clothes again."

"Aye, it was pleasant," admitted Naomi. "But Deborah brought the baby to
me. I will not go to the khan, Ezra. I do not wish to meet any one. My
heart is heavy. There will be people to stare at me and to talk in the
lanes and at the stable. I will not go."

"Naomi," said Ezra desperately, "dost thou love me?"

"Aye, thou knowest that I love thee," answered Naomi in surprise.

"Then, to please me, come to the inn stable," was Ezra's quick response.
"Ask me no questions and delay not, but come. It is early, Naomi. We
will meet no one, I hope and trust. Give me thy hand and come."

Naomi instantly slipped a thin little hand into her brother's
outstretched palm.

"For love of thee, Ezra," said she sweetly. "For love of thee."

Down the quiet road, deserted in the winter season at this early hour,
Ezra led Naomi, carefully guiding her over the stones and ruts in the
rough highway. Unobserved, they slipped quietly through the town gate,
and when a turn in the road brought the khan into view Ezra threw his
arm about his sister and quickened their steps.

He spoke but once.

"One of thy pigeons flies before us, Naomi," said he, "as if to lead us
on. It glistens in the sun like silver."

Naomi only nodded and clung the tighter to Ezra's arm.

Past the inn and round to the stable door he led her, and there they
halted.

"Naomi," said Ezra, his voice trembling with hope and fear, "thou
knowest the stable well. Enter, and walk forward until thy feet touch
the straw before the manger. There lies the Babe!"

With a gentle push Ezra started Naomi toward the Mother and Child, whose
figures he could dimly see on a heap of straw at the back of the cave.
Then in the shadow of the doorway Ezra fell upon his knees.

"O Lord," he prayed, "I know that this is Thy Messiah. I believe that
Thou hast sent Him. Thou hast promised of old that when Messiah cometh
He shall open the eyes of the blind. I would that He might open my
sister Naomi's eyes. If Thou wilt answer this prayer, Lord, I will
promise Thee anything. I will be Thy faithful servant, I will be an
obedient son, I will learn my lessons well at school and never shirk. I
will no more throw stones at stout Solomon nor even call him names. I
will promise anything Thou mayst ask of me, if Thy Messiah will only
open my sister Naomi's eyes. Hear my prayer, O Lord, hear my prayer."

Within the stable Naomi crept cautiously forward. Her footsteps lagged,
for she had no heart in this undertaking.

What pleasure could there be for her in visiting a stranger's baby which
she could not even see? A short time ago, to hold the soft little body
close and to feel the tiny clinging hands might have given her a
moment's happiness; but to-day her heart was so full of misery that
there was no room in it for joy to enter. She longed to sink down on the
stable floor. Only her love for Ezra kept her moving.

She felt the straw before the manger beneath her feet, and she dropped
to her knees and stretched out a timid hand.

Yes, the Mother and Child were before her.

She fingered the hem of the cloak wrapped about the young Mother, but
she could not bring herself to touch the little Child.

"I care not! I care not!" thought Naomi hopelessly. "What to me is this
Baby? Why should Ezra wish me to visit this Child?"

As if in answer to her unspoken question, with a sudden lovely gesture,
the Child leaned forward. His tiny fingers touched Naomi's forehead and
His hands rested for an instant upon her darkened eyes.

       *       *       *       *       *

Naomi opened and closed her eyes rapidly. She rose to her feet and
stared about her. Was it a dream, the same kind of a dream with which
she had so often lightened the weary hours of darkness, the long watches
of the night, when she had called to mind some old familiar scene--her
mother at the well, the country road, Ezra hastening home from school?
Now the inn stable rose before her. Did she really see the nose of an ox
thrusting itself over the stall? Or did she only dream the mound of hay,
and on it the young Mother wrapped in a wide blue cloak and in her arms
a Child, at the velvet touch of Whose tiny hands the black curtain had
dropped from before her eyes?

Naomi rubbed her hands together and looked down at them. Yes, they were
her own hands. There was the familiar little brown spot on the inside of
her third finger. Her dress? Yes, that was an old friend, the yellow and
red striped robe. She had worn it the day in the garden that she had
given her four scarlet poppies in exchange for little Three Legs.

Then it was true! She did see. But how had it happened? Why at the touch
of this Baby hand had her sight been restored?

"Ezra!" she called, not daring to stir. "Ezra!"

Ezra's face, white under the tan, showed itself round the stable door.

"Ezra," cried Naomi, "I can see! I can see! I know not how it is, but I
was blind and now I see! O Ezra, the Baby touched me and I can see!"

Ezra came swiftly forward. His eyes were full of tears, but his face was
radiant. He knelt before the Mother, who was watching the scene with
wondering eyes, and the Child, Who slept now in His Mother's arms. He
pulled Naomi down beside him.

"Naomi, it is the Christ Child," he whispered. "The Messiah has come!
Our Saviour lies before us! O Naomi, the Messiah hath opened the eyes of
the blind! The Lord hath heard my prayer!"

And bending low before Him, they worshiped at the Christ Child's feet.



CHAPTER VIII

THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD


The household of Samuel the weaver lay sleeping soundly. The dim light
of the small oil lamp revealed the figures of Samuel and his wife
wrapped in heavy slumber, with Jonas, rolled into a plump little ball,
at his mother's feet. Naomi lay close by with arms outstretched. Her
dreams were pleasant, for her lips were parted in a smile. Ezra was
missing. He was again spending the night in the fields with shepherd
Eli. The friendship between the old man and the lad had grown more deep
and strong since the night of the Angels' Visit, and they never wearied
of discussing the wonderful event and all the marvels that had followed
in its train.

These happenings had roused all the village of Bethlehem, and had now
touched even the city of Jerusalem since the appearance of the Wise Men
from the East, who, following His star, had come to worship the King of
the Jews.

That very evening Ezra and Naomi, caught on a lonely hillside by the
sudden fall of night, had with one accord pointed to the dusky road
below, along which rocked noiselessly three tall camels bearing the Magi
rapidly in the direction of Arabia.

"They brought gold and frankincense and myrrh," murmured Ezra, "the
offerings to a king."

"Aye, to my King, to my Messiah," answered Naomi happily. "Oh, Ezra, I
would that I had all the gold and frankincense and myrrh in all the
world that I might lay it at His feet. How can the neighbors doubt when
they see what He has done for me? Who but the true Messiah could open my
eyes and give me sight again?"

Ezra shook his head.

"Many do believe, Naomi," he answered. "And all thy life now thou canst
be a living witness to God's mercy and love. How happy He has made us
all! Father and Mother, thou and I!"

"And Jonas, too," said Naomi quickly. "He laughs and plays with me now
as never before. He knew that something was wrong, though he could not
put it into words. We are to begin again to dig our well to-morrow, he
and I. I promised him."

It may be that Naomi's dreams that night were of this pleasant task that
awaited her; it may be that in her sleep, as in her waking hours, her
thoughts were filled with visions of the Christ Child even as her heart
was full of love for Him. Her smile deepened, and she did not stir as
the night wore on.

The stars were growing pale, though morning was still far off, when the
deep silence of the village was broken by the sound of feet running
lightly, cautiously, up the lane.

Nearer and nearer came the footsteps until they halted before the door
of Samuel's house, and a little figure, panting and breathless, stepped
quickly within.

Naomi sat upright and peered sleepily through the gloom.

"Ezra, is it thou?" she asked in surprise. "Is it morning yet? What
brings thee here?"

"I have news, Naomi, bad news, I fear," the boy answered. "I must waken
my father and mother. Whatever is done must be done quickly. There is no
time to lose."

"I hear thee, son," said Samuel's voice unexpectedly. "What is thy
tale?"

"And my mother?" questioned Ezra. "It concerns Jonas."

"I sleep not," said Jonas's mother, broad awake in an instant, and
drawing the drowsy little ball into her arms in swift alarm. "Tell thy
story quickly."

"As ye know," began the boy hurriedly, "I went down to the Fields of
David at sunset to spend the night with shepherd Eli. And as I passed
through the gate old Nathan hailed me. He told me that one of the
shepherds had borrowed his warm cloak and had not yet returned it, and
that he was now full of aches and pains and sorrows because of the lack
of it. He charged me straitly to tell the shepherd to return it at once
or he would have him haled before the magistrate at daybreak, and that
he would not cease his watch for it nor sleep that night until the cloak
was round his shoulders once again.

"When I reached the Fields, I gave his message, but the shepherd who
had taken his cloak was not there; he had gone in search of a lost
lamb. And when, less than an hour ago, he returned, he asked me to keep
him company to the gateway, and help him make his peace with angry
Nathan. They know that Nathan is friendly to me," added the boy in
explanation.

"And I know that some night, wandering about as thou dost, thou wilt be
caught by beast or robber," growled Samuel. "Resume thy story."

"The shepherd and I," continued Ezra hastily, "were passing the inn when
I saw a figure by the roadside beckoning me to come to him. It was
Joseph of Nazareth, and behind him in the shadow was his wife, Mary,
bearing the Christ Child in her arms. He spoke low so that the shepherd
should not hear. He told me that an angel of the Lord had appeared to
him in a dream, saying, 'Arise and take the young child and his mother
and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I tell thee: for Herod will
seek the young child to destroy him.'

"He spoke no more," Ezra went on, "but I said unto him, 'My little
brother, think you there is danger for him?' He nodded in reply, and
then I asked, 'Start you at once?' He nodded again and stepped back into
the shadow.

"At the gateway old Nathan, glad to see his cloak again, let me through,
and I hastened home to tell the tale to thee."

Ezra's mother had already arisen and, opening the great carved chest,
had taken from it warm wrappings in which she was bundling the still
sleeping Jonas.

"Deborah, the vine-dresser's wife, leaves at sunrise in the caravan for
Joppa." As she spoke, she worked busily gathering Jonas's little
garments into a bundle. "For friendship's sake she will take Jonas with
her. We have, in her, at least one true friend in Bethlehem. Her mother
lies at Joppa sore stricken with a fever, and it may be that our boy
will take the sickness and perchance will die. But rather would I see
him in his baby grave than in the clutch of cruel King Herod."

"I will go with thee, wife, to carry the child," said Samuel gravely,
seeing that her simple preparations were now finished. "Give thy brother
a kiss in farewell, children. It may be thou wilt never see him more."

As Naomi stood on tiptoe and pressed a tender kiss upon Jonas's plump
cheek, he suddenly opened his dark eyes and, at sight of his sister,
broke into a broad smile.

"Farewell, Jonas, farewell," whispered Naomi, her eyes full of tears.
"When thou returnest we will dig the well behind the myrtle bush, thou
and I. Farewell!"

Then she laid her hand upon her father's arm.

"Father," said she in a low voice, "the little Messiah also traveleth
far to-night. I owe to Him my sight and the happiness of us all. I would
fain give unto Him a gift. I would that I might give unto Him my little
Michmash, that He may be borne swiftly and surely on the long road that
He must go."

Samuel looked for an instant into the brown eyes upturned to his own. He
remembered the darkness, the suffering, the vain hope, the despair,
then--blessed be Jehovah! the Light that had appeared and that had so
wondrously shone into the life of his little maid.

"Yea, child," said he warmly. "No gift that thou couldst give would be
too great."

"Ezra," cried Naomi, "canst thou overtake them, think you?"

But Ezra had already left the room, and could be heard in the shed
behind the house fitting the bridle over the astonished Michmash's head.

Naomi caught up her little scarlet cloak from out the carven chest, and
as Ezra came past the door, leading the little gray donkey, she flung it
across her brother's arm.

"The journey down into Egypt is far, and the night winds are cold. It
may be my scarlet cloak will keep the little Messiah warm."

She threw her arms about her donkey's neck and laid her cheek against
his soft furry nose.

"Fare thee well, little Michmash," she whispered. "Stumble not nor
falter on the way. Thou carriest the Light of all the world, the Hope of
every heart upon thy back. Farewell, farewell!"

Sunrise--and again Naomi stood alone upon the housetop. Her night of
darkness behind her, she turned her happy gaze upon the morning sky,
blue and rose and violet, whose clouds touched to misty purple the
hilltops and the peaks that surrounded Bethlehem village. Below her lay
the white stone houses, a few steep fields of dark ruddy loam, the
sloping gardens with their vines, their fig and olive trees.

From where Naomi stood the road that led to the Holy City was hidden
from view by the mountain peak Mar Elias, and as she looked toward it
her face lighted and she clasped her hands before her. For on the
mountain-top rested two great clouds like angels' wings, and with a
heart full of awe and reverence and love little Naomi felt that she
stood in the very presence of Jehovah God.

What though the promised Messiah was fleeing secretly and in dread from
His own country? The Lord was mindful of His own, and was even now
keeping watch over His people. "Behold, He that keepeth Israel will
neither slumber nor sleep."

She had no words. She could only stand and let the tide of love she felt
sweep over her again and again, until softly and almost imperceptibly
the Heavenly Pinions faded away into the blue.

When Ezra came he found Naomi looking toward the road that wound
ribbon-like past the Bethlehem inn down into the land of the Pharaohs,
the country of the Sphinx and the Pyramids.

He nodded at the question in her eyes and silently pointed out to her a
little group that moved steadily forward upon the dusty road below.

"Dost see them?" asked Ezra softly. "Joseph, staff in hand, leads little
Michmash who bears the Mother and the Child upon his back. He steps
forth bravely, the little beast. Ah! now they take the turn that hides
them from our sight. Our little Messiah! Gone from us after so short a
time!"

"Aye, but to come again," said Naomi confidently. "I know it, Ezra. I
was blind and now I see. As a tiny Babe He brought the light to me
alone. But when He comes again, He will be the Light of all the world,
Ezra, the Light of all the world."

  THE END





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