A rough track–something between a footpath and a water course–led down the mountain-side through groves of evergreen oak, and reached the Plain of Jezreel at the point where the road from Samaria and the south divided into two–its main stem still climbing due north towards Nazareth, while the branch bent back eastward and by south across the flat, arable country to join the Carmel road at Megiddo.
An old man came painfully down the mountain-track. He wore a white burnoos, and a brown garment of camel’s hair, with a leathern belt that girt it high about his bare legs. He carried a staff, and tapped the ground carefully before planting his feet. It was the time of barley harvest, and a scorching afternoon. On the burnt plain below, the road to Megiddo shone and quivered in the heat. But he could not see it. Cataract veiled his eyes and blurred the whole landscape for them.
The track now wound about a foot-hill that broke away in a sharp slope on his right and plunged to a stony ravine. Once or twice he paused on its edge and peered downward, as if seeking for a landmark. He was leaning forward to peer again, but suddenly straightened his body and listened.
Far down in the valley a solitary dog howled. But the old man’s ear had caught another sound, that came from the track, not far in front.
It was the sound of hammering; of stone on metal.
He stepped forward briskly, rounded an angle of rock, and found himself face to face with a man–as well as he could see, a tall man–standing upright by a heap of stones on the left edge of the path.
“May it be well with you, my son: and with every man who repairs a path for the traveller. But tell me if the way be unsafe hereabouts? For my eyes are very dim, and it is now many years since last I came over the hills to Shunem.”
The man did not reply.
“–So many years that for nigh upon an hour I have been saying, ‘Surely here should Shunem come in sight–or here–its white walls among the oaks below–the house of Miriam of Shunem’. But I forget the curtain on my eyes, and the oaks will have grown tall.”
Still there came no answer. Slightly nettled, the old man went on–
“My son, it is said ‘To return a word before hearing the matter is folly.’ But also, ‘Every man shall kiss the lips of him who answereth fit words.’ And further, ‘To the aged every stranger shall be a staff, nor shall he twice inquire his way.’ Though I may not scan thy face, thou scannest mine; and I, who now am blind, have been a seer in Israel.”
As he ceased, another figure–a woman’s–stepped out, as it seemed to him, from behind the man; stepped forward and touched him on the arm.
“Hail, then, Elisha, son of Shaphat!”
“Thou knowest? . . .”
“Who better than Miriam of Shunem? Put near thy face and look.”
“My eyes are very dim.”
“And the oaks are higher than Shunem. My face has changed: my voice also.”
“For the moment it was strange to me. As I came along I was reckoning thy years at three-score.”
“Mayst add five.”
“We may not complain. And thy son, how fares he?”
“That is he, behind us. He is a good son, and leaves his elders to speak first. If we sit awhile and talk he will wait for us.”
“And thy house and the farm-steading?”
The woman threw a glance down towards the valley, and answered quickly–
“My master, shall we not sit awhile? The track here looks towards the plain. Sit, and through my eyes thou shalt see again distant Carmel and the fields between that used so to delight thee. Ah! not there!”