The Scapegoat; a Romance and a Parable

Contents:
Author: Hall Caine

Chapter XVI Naomi’s Blindness

Although Naomi, in her darkness and muteness since the coming of her gift of hearing, had learned to know and understand the different tongues of men, yet now that she tried to call forth words for herself, and to put out her own voice in the use of them, she was no more than a child untaught in the ways of speech. She tripped and stammered and broke down, and had to learn to speak as any helpless little one must do, only quicker, because her need was greater, and better, because she was a girl and not a babe. And, perceiving her own awkwardness, and thinking shame of it, and being abashed by the patient waiting of her father when she halted in her talk with him, and still more humbled by Ali’s impetuous help when she miscalled her syllables, she fell back again on silence.

Hardly could she be got to speak at all. For some days after the night when her emancipated tongue had rescued Israel from his enemies on the Sok, she seemed to say nothing beyond "Yes" and "No," notwithstanding Ali’s eager questions, and Fatimah’s tearful blessings, and Habeebah’s breathless invocations, and also notwithstanding the hunger and thirst of the heart of her father, who, remembering with many throbs of joy the voice that he heard with his dreaming ears when he slept on the straw bed of the poor fondak at Wazzan, would have given worlds of gold, if he had possessed them still, to hear it constantly with his waking ears.

"Come, come, little one; come, come, speak to us, only speak," Israel would say.

His appeals were useless. Naomi would smile and hang her sunny head, and lift her father’s hairy hand to her cheek, and say nothing.

But just about a week later a beautiful thing occurred. Israel was returning to the Mellah after one of his secret excursions in the poor quarter of the Bab Ramooz, where he had spent the remainder of the money which old Reuben had paid him for the casket of his wife’s jewels. The night was warm, the moon shone with steady lustre, and the stars were almost obliterated as separate lights by a luminous silvery haze. It was late, very late, and far and near the town was still.

With his innocent disguise, his Moorish jellab, hung over his arm, Israel had passed the Mellah gate, being the only Jew who was allowed to cross it after sunset. He was feeling happy as he walked home through the sleeping streets, with his black shadow going in front. The magic of the summer night possessed him, and his soul was full of joy.

All his misgivings had fallen away. The coming to Naomi of the gift of speech had seemed to banish from his mind the dark spirit of the past. He had no heart for reprisals upon the enemies who had sought to kill him. Without that blind effort on their part, perhaps his great blessing had not come to pass. Man’s extremity had indeed been God’s opportunity and Ruth’s vision was all but realised.

Ah, Ruth! Ruth! It had escaped Israel’s notice until then that he had been thinking of his dead wife the whole night through. When he put it to himself so, he saw the reason of it at once. It was because there was a sort of secret charm in the certainty that where she was she must surely know that her dream was come true. There was also a kind of bitter pathos in the regret that she was only an angel now and not a woman; therefore she could not be with him to share his human joy.

As he walked through the Mellah, Israel thought of her again: how she had sung by the cradle to her babe that could not hear. Sung? Yes, he could almost fancy that he heard her singing yet. That voice so soft, so clear even in its whispers—there had been nothing like it in all the world. And her songs! Israel could also fancy that he heard her favourite one. It was a song of love, a pure but passionate melody wherein his own delicious happiness in the earlier days, before the death of the old Grand Rabbi, had seemed to speak and sing.

Israel began to laugh at himself as he walked. To think that the warmth and softness of the night, the sweet caressing night, the light and beauty of the moon and the stillness and slumber of the town, could betray an old fellow into forgotten dreams like these!

He had taken out of his pocket the big key of the clamped door to his house, and was crossing the shadowed lane in front of it, when suddenly he thought he heard music coating in the air above him. He stopped and listened. Then he had no longer any doubt. It was music, it was singing; he knew the song, and he knew the voice. The song was the song he had been thinking of, and the voice was the voice of Ruth.

O where is Love?
Where, where is Love?
Is it of heavenly birth ?
Is it a thing of earth?
Where, where is Love?

Israel felt himself rooted to the spot, and he stood some time without stirring. He looked around. All else was still. The night was as silent as death. He listened attentively. The singing seemed to come from his own house. Then he thought he must be dreaming still, and he took a step forward. But he stopped again and covered both his ears. That was of no avail, for when he removed his hands the voice was there as before.

A shiver ran over his limbs, yet he could not believe what his soul was saying. The key dropped out of his hand and rang on the stone. When the clangour was done the voice continued. Israel bethought him then that his household must be asleep, and it flashed on his mind that if this were a human voice the singing ought to awaken them. Just at that moment the night guard went by and saluted him. "God bless your morning!" the guard cried; and Israel answered, "Your morning be blessed!" That was all. The guard seemed to have heard nothing. His footsteps were dying away, but the voice went on.

Then a strange emotion filled Israel’s heart, and he reflected that even if it were Ruth she could have come on no evil errand. That thought gave him courage, and he pushed forward to the door. As he fumbled the key into the lock he saw that a beggar was crouching by the doorway in the shadow cast by the moonlight. The man was asleep. Israel could hear his breathing, and smell his rags. Also he could hear the thud of his own temples like the beating of a drum in his brain.

At length, as he was groping feebly through the crooked passage, a new thought came to him. "Naomi," he told himself in a whisper of awe. It was she. By the full flood of the moonlight in the patio he saw her. She was on the balcony. Her beautiful white-robed figure was half sitting on the rail, half leaning against the pillar. The whole lustre of the moon was upon her. A look of joy beamed on her face. She was singing her mother’s song with her mother’s voice, and all the air, and the sky, and the quiet white town seemed to listen:—

Within my heart a voice
Bids earth and heaven rejoice
Sings—"Love, great Love
O come and claim shine own,
O come and take thy throne
Reign ever and alone,
Reign, glorious golden Love."

Then Israel’s fear was turned to rapture. Why had he not thought of this before? Yet how could he have thought of it? He had never once heard Naomi’s voice save in the utterance of single words. But again, why had he not remembered that before the tongues of children can speak words of their own they sing the words of others?

The singing ended, and then Israel, struggling with his dry throat, stepped a pace forward—his foot grated on the pavement—and he called to the singer—

"Naomi!"

The girl bent forward, as if peering down into the darkness below, but Israel could see that her fixed eyes were blind.

"My father!" she whispered.

"Where did you learn it?" said Israel.

"Fatimah, she taught me," Naomi answered; and then she added quickly, as if with great but childlike pride, saying what she did not mean, "Oh yes, it was I! Was I not beautiful?"

After that night Naomi’s shyness of speech dropped away from her, and what was left was only a sweet maidenly unconsciousness of all faults and failings, with a soft and playful lisp that ran in and out among the simple words that fell from her red lips like a young squirrel among the fallen leaves of autumn. It would be a long task to tell how her lisping tongue turned everything then to favour and to prettiness. On the coming of the gift of hearing, the world had first spoken to her; and now, on the coming of the gift of speech, she herself was first speaking to the world. What did she tell it at that first sweet greeting? She told it what she had been thinking of it in those mute days that were gone, when she had neither hearing nor speech, but was in the land of silence as well as in the land of night.

The fancies of the blind maid so long shut up within the beautiful casket of her body were strange and touching ones. Israel took delight in them at the beginning. He loved to probe the dark places of the mind they came from, thinking God Himself must surely have illumined it at some time with a light that no man knew, so startling were some of Naomi’s replies, so tender and so beautiful.

One evening, not long after she had first spoken, he was sitting with her on the roof of their house as the sun was going down over the palpitating plains towards Arzila and Laraiche and the great sea beyond. Twilight was gathering in the Feddan under the Mosque, and the last light of day, which had parleyed longest with the snowy heights of the Reef Mountains, was glowing only on the sky above them.

"Sweetheart," said Israel, "what is the sun?"

"The sun is a fire in the sky," Naomi answered; "my Father lights it every morning."

"Truly, little one, thy Father lights it," said Israel; "thy Father which is in heaven."

"Sweetheart," he said again, "what is darkness?"

"Oh, darkness is cold," said Naomi promptly, and she seemed to shiver.

"Then the light must be warmth, little one?" said Israel.

"Yes, and noise," she answered; and then she added quickly, "Light is alive."

Saying this, she crept closer to his side, and knelt there, and by her old trick of love she took his hand in both of hers, and pressed it against her cheek, and then, lifting her sweet face with its motionless eyes she began to tell him in her broken words and pretty lisp what she thought of night. In the night the world, and everything in it, was cold and quiet. That was death. The angels of God came to the world in the day. But God Himself came in the night, because He loved silence, and because all the world was dead. Then He kissed things, and in the morning all that God had kissed came to life again. If you were to get up early you would feel God’s kiss on the flowers and on the grass. And that was why the birds were singing then. God had kissed them in the night, and they were glad.

One day Israel took Naomi to the mearrah of the Jews, the little cemetery outside the town walls where he had buried Ruth. And there he told her of her mother once more; that she was in the grave, but also with God; that she was dead, but still alive; that Naomi must not expect to find her in that place, but, nevertheless, that she would see her yet again.

"Do you remember her, Naomi?" he said. "Do you remember her in the old days, the old dark and silent days? Not Fatimah, and not Habeebah, but some one who was nearer to you than either, and loved you better than both; some one who had soft hands, and smooth cheeks, and long, silken, wavy hair—do you remember, little one?"

"Y-es, I think—I I remember," said Naomi.

"That was your mother, my darling."

"My mother?"

"Ah, you don’t know what a mother is, sweetheart. How should you? And how shall I tell you? Listen. She is the one who loves you first and last and always. When you are a babe she suckles you and nourishes you and fondles you, and watches for the first light of your smile, and listens for the first accent of your tongue. When you are a young child she plays with you, and sings to you, and tells you little stories, and teaches you to speak. Your smile is more bright to her than sunshine, and your childish lisp more sweet than music. If you are sick she is beside you constantly, and when you are well she is behind you still. Though you sin and fall and all men spurn you, yet she clings to you; and if you do well and God prospers you, there is no joy like her joy. Her love never changes, for it is a fount which the cold winds of the world cannot freeze. . . . And if you are a little helpless girl—blind and deaf and dumb maybe—then she loves you best of all. She cannot tell you stories, and she cannot sing to you, because you cannot hear; she cannot smile into your eyes, because you cannot see; she cannot talk to you, because you cannot speak; but she can watch your quiet face, and feel the touch of your little fingers and hear the sound of your merry laughter."

"My mother! my mother!" whispered Naomi to herself, as if in awe.

"Yes," said Israel, "your mother was like that, Naomi, long ago, in the days before your great gifts came to you. But she is gone, she has left us, she could not stay; she is dead, and only from the blue mountains of memory can she smile back upon us now."

Naomi could not understand, but her fixed blue eyes filled with tears, and she said abruptly, "People who die are deceitful. They want to go out in the night to be with God. That is where they are when they go away. They are wandering about the world when it is dead."

The same night Naomi was missed out of the house, and for many hours no search availed to find her. She was not in the Mellah, and therefore she must have passed into the Moorish town before the gates closed at sunset. Neither was she to be seen in the Feddan or at the Kasbah, or among the Arabs who sat in the red glow of the fires that burnt before their tents. At last Israel bethought him of the mearrah, and there he found her. It was dark, and the lonesome place was silent. The reflection of the lights of the town rose into the sky above it, and the distant hum of voices came over the black town walls. And there, within the straggling hedge of prickly pear, among the long white stones that lay like sheep asleep among the grass, Naomi in her double darkness, the darkness of the night and of her blindness was running to and fro, and crying, "Mother! Mother!"

Fatimah took her the four miles to Marteel, that the breath of the sea might bring colour to her cheeks, which had been whitened by the heat and fumes of the town. The day was soft and beautiful, the water was quiet, and only a gentle wind came creeping over it. But Naomi listened to every sound with eager intentness—the light plash of the blue wavelets that washed to her feet, the ripple of their crests when the Levanter chased them and caught them, the dip of the oars of the boatman, the rattle of the anchor-chains of ships in the bay, and the fierce vociferations of the negroes who waded up to their waists to unload the cargoes.

And when she came home, and took her old place at her father’s knees, with his hand between hers pressed close against her cheek, she told him another sweet and startling story. There was only one thing in the world that did not die at night, and it was water. That was because water was the way from heaven to earth. It went up into the mountains and over them into the air until it was lost in the clouds. And God and His angels came and went on the water between heaven and earth. That was why it was always moving and never sleeping, and had no night and no day. And the angels were always singing. That was why the waters were always making a noise, and were never silent like the grass. Sometimes their song was joyful, and sometimes it was sad, and sometimes the evil spirits were struggling with the angels, and that was when the waters were terrible. Every time the sea made a little noise on the shore, an angel had stepped on to the earth. The angel was glad.

Israel had begun to listen to Naomi’s fancies with a doubting heart. Where had they come from? Was it his duty to wipe out these beautiful dream-stories of the maid born blind and newly come upon the joy of hearing with his own sadder tales of what the world was and what life was, and death and heaven? The question was soon decided for him.

Two days after Naomi had been taken to Marteel she was missed again. Israel hurried away to the sea, and there he came upon her. Alone, without help, she had found a boat on the beach and had pushed off on to the water. It was a double-pronged boat, light as a nutshell, made of ribs of rush, covered with camel-skin, and lined with bark. In this frail craft she was afloat, and already far out in the bay not rowing, but sitting quietly, and drifting away with the ebbing tide. The wind was rising, and the line of the foreshore beyond the boat was white with breakers. Israel put off after her and rescued her. The motionless eyes began to fill when she heard his voice.

"My darling, my darling!" cried Israel; "where did you think you were going?"

"To heaven," she answered.

And truly she had all but gone there.

Israel had no choice left to him now. He must sadden the heart of this creature of joy that he might keep her body safe from peril. Naomi was no more than a little child, swayed by her impulses alone, but in more danger from herself than any child before her, because deprived of two of her senses until she had grown to be a maid, and no control could be imposed upon her.

At length Israel nerved himself to his bitter task; and one evening while Naomi sat with him on the roof while the sun was setting, and there were noises in the streets below of the Jewish people shuffling back into the Mellah, he told her that she was blind. The word made no impression upon her mind at first. She had heard it before, and it had passed her by like a sound that she did not know. She had been born blind, and therefore could not realise what it was to see. To open a way for the awful truth was difficult, and Israel’s heart smote him while he persisted. Naomi laughed as he put his fingers over her eyes that he might show her. She laughed again when he asked if she could see the people whom she could only hear. And once more she laughed when the sun had gone down, and the mooddin had come out on the Grand Mosque in the Metamar, and he asked if she could see the old blind man in the minaret, where he was crying, "God is great! God is great!"

"Can you see him, little one?" said Israel.

"See him?" said Naomi; "why yes, you dear old father, of course I can see him. Listen," she cried, ceasing her laughter, lifting one finger, and holding her head aslant, "listen: God is great! God is great! There—I saw him then."

"That is only hearing him, Naomi—hearing him with your ears— with this ear and with this. But can you see him, sweetheart?"

Did her father mean to ask her if she could the mooddin in his minaret far above them? Once more she laid her head aslant. There was a pause, and then she cried impulsively—

"Oh, know. But, you foolish old father, how I? He is too far away."

Then she flung her arms about Israel’s neck and kissed him.

"There," she cried, in a tone of one who settles differences, "I have seen my anyway."

It was hard to check her merriment, but Israel had to do it. He told her, with many throbs in his throat, that she was not like other maidens—not like her father, or Ali, or Fatimah, or Habeebah; that she was a being afflicted of God; that there was something she had not got, something she could not do, a world she did not know, and had never yet so much as dreamt of. Darkness was more than cold and quiet, and light was more than warmth and noise. The one was day—day ruled by the fiery sun in the sky—and the other was night, lit by the pale moon and the bright stars in heaven. And the face of man and the eyes of woman were more than features to feel—they were spirit and soul, to watch and to follow and to love without any hand being near them.

"There is a great world about you, little one," he said, "which you have never seen, though you can hear it and feel it and speak to it. Yes, it is true, Naomi, it is true. You have never seen the mountains and the dangerous gullies on their rocky sides. You have never seen the mighty deep, and the storms that heave and swell in it. You have never seen man or woman or child. Is that very strange, little one? Listen: your mother died nine years ago, and you had never seen her. Your father is holding your head in his hands at this moment, but you have never seen his face. And if the dark curtains were to fall from your eyes, and you were to see him now, you would not know him from another man, or from woman, or from a tree. You are blind, Naomi, you are blind."

Naomi listened intently. Her cheeks twitched, her fingers rested nervously on her dress at her bosom, and her eyes grew large and solemn, and then filled with tears. Israel’s throat swelled. To tell her of all this, though he must needs do it for her safety, was like reproaching her with her infirmity. But it was only the trouble in her father’s voice that had found its way to the sealed chamber of Naomi’s mind. The awful and crushing truth of her blindness came later to her consciousness, probed in and thrust home by a frailer and lighter hand.

She had always loved little children, and since the: coming of her hearing she had loved them more than ever. Their lisping tongues, their pretty broken speech, their simple words, their childish thoughts, all fitted with her own needs, for she was nothing but a child herself, though grown to be a lovely maid. And of all children those she loved best were not the children of the Jews, nor yet the children of the Moorish townsfolk, but the ragged, barefoot, black and olive-skinned mites who came into Tetuan with the country Arabs and Berbers on market mornings. They were simplest, their little tongues were liveliest, and they were most full of joy and wonder. So she would gather them up in twos and threes and fours, on Wednesdays and Sundays, from the mouths of their tents on the Feddan, and carry them home by the hand.

And there, in the patio, Ali had hung a swing of hempen rope, suspended from a bar thrown from parapet to parapet, and on this Naomi would sport with her little ones. She would be swinging in the midst of them, with one tiny black maiden on the seat beside her, and one little black man with high stomach and shaven poll holding on to the rope behind her, and another mighty Moor in a diminutive white jellab pushing at their feet in front, and all laughing together, or the children singing as the swing rose, and she herself listening with head aslant and all her fair hair rip-rip-rippling down her back and over her neck, and her smiling white face resting on her shoulder.

It was a beautiful scene of sunny happiness, but out of it came the first great shadow of the blind girl’s life. For it chanced one day that one of the children—a tiny creature with a slice of the woman in her—brought a present for Naomi out of her mother’s market-basket. It was a flower, but of a strange kind, that grew only in the distant mountains where lay the little black one’s home. Naomi passed her fingers over it, and she did not know it.

"What is it?" she asked.

"It’s blue," said the child.

"What is blue?" said Naomi

"Blue—don’t you know?—blue!" said the child.

"But what is blue?" Naomi asked again, holding the flower in her restless fingers.

"Why, dear me! can’t you see?—blue—the flower, you know," said the child, in her artless way.

Ali was standing by at the time, and he thought to come to Naomi’s relief. "Blue is a colour," he said.

"A colour?" said Naomi.

"Yes, like—like the sea," he added.

"The sea? Blue? How?" Naomi asked.

Ali tried again. "Like the sky," he said simply.

Naomi’s face looked perplexed. "And what is the sky like?" she asked.

At that moment her beautiful face was turned towards Ali’s face, and her great motionless blue orbs seemed to gaze into his eyes. The lad was pressed hard, and he could not keep back the answer that leapt up to his tongue. "Like," he said—"like—"

"Well?"

"Like your own eyes, Naomi."

By the old habit of her nervous fingers, she covered her eyes with her hands, as if the sense of touch would teach her what her other senses could not tell. But the solemn mystery had dawned on her mind at last: that she was unlike others; that she was lacking something that every one else possessed; that the little children who played with her knew what she could never know; that she was infirm, afflicted, cut off; that there was a strange and lovely and lightsome world lying round about her, where every one else might sport and find delight, but that her spirit could not enter it, because she was shut off from it by the great hand of God.

From that time forward everything seemed to remind her of her affliction, and she heard its baneful voice at all times. Even her dreams, though they had no visions, were full of voices that told of them. If a bird sang in the air above her, she lifted her sightless eyes. If she walked in the town on market morning and heard the din of traffic—the cries of the dealers, the "Balak!" of the camel-men, the "Arrah!" of the muleteers, and the twanging ginbri of the story-tellers—she sighed and dropped her head into her breast. Listening to the wind, she asked if it had eyes or was sightless; and hearing of the mountains that their snowy heads rose into the clouds, she inquired if they were blind, and if they ever talked together in the sky.

But at the awful revelation of her blindness she ceased to be a child, and became a woman. In the week thereafter she had learned more of the world than in all the years of her life before. She was no longer a restless gleam of sunlight, a reckless spirit of joy, but a weak, patient, blind maiden, conscious of her great infirmity, humbled by it, and thinking shame of it.

One afternoon, deserting the swing in the patio, she went out with the children into the fields. The day was hot, and they wandered far down the banks and dry bed of the Marteel. And as they ran and raced, the little black people plucked the wild flowers, and called to the cattle and the sheep and the dogs, and whistled to the linnets that whistled to their young.

Thus the hours went on unheeded. The afternoon passed into evening, the evening into twilight, the twilight into early night. Then the air grew empty like a vault, and a solemn quiet fell upon the children, and they crept to Naomi’s side in fear, and took her hands and clung to her gown. She turned back towards the town, and as they walked in the double silence of their own hushed tongues and the songless and voiceless world, the fingers of the little ones closed tightly upon her own.

Then the children cried in terror, "See!"

"What is it?" said Naomi.

The little ones could not tell her. It was only the noiseless summer lightning, but the children had never seen it before. With broad white flashes it lit up the land as far as from the bed of the river in the valley to the white peaks of the mountains. At every flash the little people shrieked in their fear, and there was no one there to comfort them save Naomi only, and she was blind and could not see what they saw. With helpless hands she held to their hands and hurried home, over the darkening fields, through the palpitating sheets of dazzling light, leading on, yet seeing nothing.

But Israel saw Naomi’s shame. The blindness which was a sense of humiliation to her became a sense of burning wrong to him. He had asked God to give her speech, and had promised to be satisfied. "Give her speech, O Lord," he had cried, "speech that shall lift her above the creatures of the field, speech whereby alone she may ask and know." But what was speech without sight to her who had always been blind? What was all the world to one who had never seen it? Only as Paradise is to Man, who can but idly dream of its glories.

Israel took back his prayer. There were things to know that words could never tell. Now was Naomi blind for the first time, being no longer dumb. "Give her sight, O Lord," he cried; "open her eyes that she may see; let her look on Thy beautiful world and know it! Then shall her life be safe, and her heart be happy, and her soul be Thine, and Thy servant at last be satisfied!"

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Chicago: Hall Caine, "Chapter XVI Naomi’s Blindness," The Scapegoat; a Romance and a Parable, trans. Evans, Sebastian in The Scapegoat; a Romance and a Parable Original Sources, accessed January 22, 2019, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=PC1S38PE1C9PDM4.

MLA: Caine, Hall. "Chapter XVI Naomi’s Blindness." The Scapegoat; a Romance and a Parable, translted by Evans, Sebastian, in The Scapegoat; a Romance and a Parable, Original Sources. 22 Jan. 2019. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=PC1S38PE1C9PDM4.

Harvard: Caine, H, 'Chapter XVI Naomi’s Blindness' in The Scapegoat; a Romance and a Parable, trans. . cited in , The Scapegoat; a Romance and a Parable. Original Sources, retrieved 22 January 2019, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=PC1S38PE1C9PDM4.