The Scapegoat; a Romance and a Parable

Author: Hall Caine

Chapter XIII Naomi’s Great Gift

With the coming of the gift of hearing, the other gifts with which Naomi had been gifted in her deafness, and the strange graces with which she had been graced, seemed suddenly to fall from her as a garment when she disrobed.

It seemed as though her old sense of touch had become confused by her new sense of hearing, She lost her way in her father’s house, and though she could now hear footsteps, she did not appear to know who approached. They led her into the street, into the Feddan, into the walled lane to the great gate, into the steep arcades leading to the Kasbah; and no more as of old did she thread her way through the people, seeming to see them through the flesh of her face and to salute them with the laugh on her lips, but only followed on and on with helpless footsteps. They took her to the hill above the battery, and her breath came quick as she trod the familiar ways; but when she was come to the summit, no longer did she exult in her lofty place and drink new life from the rush of mighty winds about her, but only quaked like a child in terror as she faced the world unseen beneath and hearkened to the voices rising out of it, and heard the breeze that had once laved her cheeks now screaming in her ears. They gave Ali’s harp into her hands, the same that she had played so strangely at the Kasbah on the marriage of Ben Aboo; but never again as on that day did she sweep the strings to wild rhapsodies of sound such as none had heard before and none could follow, but only touched and fumbled them with deftless fingers that knew no music.

She lost her old power to guide her footsteps and to minister to her pleasures and to cherish her affections. No longer did she seem to communicate with Nature by other organs than did the rest of the human kind. She was a radiant and joyous spirit maid no more, but only a beautiful blind girl, a sweet human sister that was weak and faint.

Nevertheless, Israel recked nothing of her weakness, for joy at the loss of those powers over which his enemies throughout seventeen evil years had bleated and barked "Beelzebub!" And if God in His mercy had taken the angel out of his house, so strangely gifted, so strangely joyful, He had given him instead, for the hunger of his heart as a man, a sweet human daughter, however helpless and frail.

Thus in the first days of Naomi’s great change Israel was content. But day by day this contentment left him, and he was haunted by strange sinkings of the heart. Naomi’s frailty appeared to be not only of the body but also of the spirit. It seemed as if her soul had suddenly fallen asleep. She betrayed neither joy nor sorrow. No sound escaped her lips; no thought for herself or for others seemed to animate her. She neither laughed nor wept. When Israel kissed her pale brow, she did not stretch out her arms as she had done before to draw down his head to her lips. Calmly, silently, sadly, gracefully, she passed from day to day, without feeling and without thought—a beautiful statue of flesh and blood.

What God was doing with her slumbering spirit then, only He Himself knows; but the time of her awakening came, and with it came her first delight in the new gift with which God had gifted her.

To revive her spirits and to quicken her memory, Israel had taken her to walk in the fields outside the town where she had loved to play in her childhood—the wild places covered with the peppermint and the pink, the thyme, the marjoram, and the white broom, where she had gathered flowers in the old times, when God had taught her. The day was sweet, for it was the cool of the morning, the air was soft, and the wind was gentle, and under the shady trees the covert of the reeds lay quiet. And whither Naomi would, thither they had wandered, without object and without direction.

On and on, hand in hand, they had walked through the winding paths of the oleander, between the creeping fences of the broom, and the sprawling limbs of the prickly pear, until they came to a stream, a tributary of the Marteel, trickling down from the wild heights of the Akhmas, over the light pebbles of its narrow bed. And there—but by what impulse or what chance Israel never knew—Naomi had withdrawn her hand from his hand; and at the next moment, in scarcely more time than it took him to stoop to the ground and rise again, suddenly as if she had sunk into the earth, or been lifted into the sky, Naomi disappeared from his sight.

Israel pushed the low boughs apart, expecting to find her by his side, but she was nowhere near. He called her by her name, thinking she would answer with the only language of her lips, the old language of her laugh.

"Naomi! Naomi! Come, come, my child, where are you?"

But no sound came back to him.

Again he called, not as before in a tone of remonstrance, but with a voice of fear.

"Naomi, Naomi! Where are you? where? where?"

Then he listened and waited, yet heard nothing, neither her laugh nor the rustle of her robe, nor the light beat of her footstep.

Nevertheless, she had passed over the grass from the spot where she had left him, without waywardness or thought of evil, only missing his hand and trying to recover it, then becoming afraid and walking rapidly, until the dense foliage between them had hidden her from sight and deadened the sound of his voice.

Opening a way between the long leaves of an aloe, Israel found her at length in the place whereto she had wandered. It was a short bend of the brook, where dark old trees overshadowed the water with forest gloom. She was seated on the trunk of a fallen oak, and it seemed as if she had sat herself down to weep in her dumb trouble, for her blind eyes were still wet with tears. The river was murmuring at her feet; an old olive-tree over her head was pattering with its multitudinous tongues; the little family of a squirrel was chirping by her side, and one tiny creature of the brood was squirling up her dress; a thrush was swinging itself on the low bough of the olive and singing as it swung, and a sheep of solemn face—gaunt and grim and ancient—was standing and palpitating before her. Bees were humming, grasshoppers were buzzing, the light wind was whispering, and cattle were lowing in the distance. The air of that sweet spot in that sweet hour was musical with every sweet sound of the earth and sky, and fragrant with all the wild odours of the wood.

"My darling," cried Israel in the first outburst of his relief, and then he paused and looked at her again.

The wet eyes were open, and they appeared to see, so radiant was the light that shone in them. A tender smile played about her mouth; her head was held forward; her nostrils quivered; and her cheeks were flushed. She had pushed her hat back from her head, and her yellow hair had fallen over her neck and breast. One of her hands covered one ear, and the other strayed among the plants that grew on the bank beside her. She seemed to be listening intently, eagerly, rapturously. A rare and radiant joy, a pure and tender delight, appeared to gush out of her beautiful face. It was almost as though she believed that everything she heard with the great new gift which God had given her was speaking to her, and bidding her welcome and offering her love; as if the garrulous old olive over her head were stretching down his arms to sport with her hair, and pattering; "Kiss me, little one! kiss me, sweet one! kiss me! kiss me!"—as if the rippling river at her feet were laughing and crying, "Catch me, naked feet! catch me, catch me!" as if the thrush on the bough were singing, "Where from, sunny locks? where from? where from?—as if the young squirrel were chirping, "I’m not afraid, not afraid, not afraid!" and as if the grey old sheep were breathing slowly, "Pat me, little maiden! you may, you may!"

"God bless her beautiful face!" cried Israel. "She listens with every feature and every line of it."

It was the awakening of her soul to the soul of music, and from that day forward she took pleasure in all sweet and gentle sounds whatsoever—in the voices of children at play—in the bleat of the goat—in the footsteps of them she loved—in the hiss and whirr of her mother’s old spinning-wheel, which now she learned to work—and in Ali’s harp, when he played it in the patio in the cool of the evening.

But even as no eye can see how the seed which has been sown in the ground first dies and then springs into life, so no tongue can tell what change was wrought in the pure soul of Naomi when, after her baptism of sound, the sweet voices of earth first entered it. Neither she herself nor any one else ever fully realised what that change was, for it was a beautiful and holy mystery. It was also a great joy, and she seemed to give herself up to it. No music ever escaped her, and of all human music she took most pleasure in the singing of love songs. These she listened to with a simple and rapt delight; their joy seemed to answer to her joy, and the joyousness of a song of love seemed to gather in the air wheresoever she went.

There were few of the kind she ever heard, and few of that few were beautiful, and none were beautifully sung. Fatimah’s homely ditties were all she knew, the same that had been crooned to her a thousand times when she had not heard. Most of these were songs of the desert and the caravan, telling of musk and ambergris, and odorous locks and dancing cypress, and liquid ruby, and lips like wine; and some were warm tales which the good soul herself hardly understood, of enchanting beauties whose silence was the door of consent, and of wanton nymphs whose love tore the veil of their chastity.

But one of them was a song of pure and true passion that seemed to be the yearning cry of a hungering, unfilled, unsatisfied heart to call down love out of the skies, or else be carried up to it. This had been a favourite song of Naomi’s mother, and it was from Ruth that Fatimah had learned it in those anxious watches of the early uncertain days when she sang it over the cradle to her babe that was deaf after all and did not hear. Naomi knew nothing of this, but she heard her mother’s song at last, though silent were the lips that first sang it, and it was her chief and dear delight.

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

In her crazy, creechy voice the black woman would sing the song, when Israel was out of hearing; and the joy Naomi found in it, and the simple silent arts she used, being mute and blind, to show her pleasure while it lasted, and to ask for it again when it was done, were very sweet and touching.

And so it came about at last, that even as the human mother loves that child most among many children that most is helpless, so the earth-mother of Naomi made her ears more keen because her eyes were blind. Thus she seemed to hear many things that are unheard by the rest of the human family. It is only a dim echo of the outer world that the ears of men are allowed to hear, just as it is only a dim shadow of the outer world that the eyes of men are allowed to see; but the ears of Naomi seemed to hear all.

There is one hearing of men, and another hearing of the beasts, and a third of the birds, and one hearing differs from another in keenness even as one sight differs from another in strength. And all the earth is full of voices, and everything that moves upon the face of it has its sound; but the bird hears that which is unheard of the beast, and the beast hears that which is unheard of men. But Naomi appeared to hear all that is heard of each.

Listening hour after hour, listening always, listening only, with nothing that she could do but listen, nothing moved on the ground but she dropped her face, and nothing flew in the sky but she lifted her eyes. And whereas before the coming of her great gift her face had been all feeling, and she seemed to feel the sunset, and to feel the sky, and to feel the thunder and the light, now her face was all hearing, and her whole body seemed to hear, for she was like a living soul floating always in a sea of sound.

Thus, day after day, she was busy in her silence and in her darkness, building up notions of man and of the world by the new gift with which God had gifted her; but what strange thing the earth was to her then, what the sun was with its warmth, and what the sea was with its roar, and what the face of man was, and the eyes of woman, none could know, and neither could she tell, for her soul was not linked to other souls—soul to soul, in the chains of speech.

And for all that she could not answer; yet Israel did not forget that, beside the sounds of earth and sky, Naomi was hearing words, and that words had wings, and were alive, and, for good or ill, made their mark on the soul that listened to them. So he continued to read to her out of the Book of the Law, day after day at sunset, according to his wont and custom. And when an evil spirit seemed to make a mock at him, and to say, "Fool! she hears, but does she understand?" he remembered how he had read to her in the days of her deafness, and he said to himself, "Shall I have less faith now that she can hear?"

But, though he turned his back on the temptation to let go of Naomi’s soul at last, yet sometimes his heart misgave him; for when he spoke to her it seemed to him that he was like a man that shouts into a cavern and gets back no answer but the sound of his own voice. If he told her of the sky, that it was broad as the ocean, what could she see of the great deeps to measure them? And if he told her of the sea, that it was green as the fields, what could she see of the grass to know its colour? And sometimes as he spoke to her it smote him suddenly that the words themselves which he used to speak with were no more to Naomi than the notes which Ali struck from his dead harp, or the bleat of the goat at her feet.

Nevertheless, his faith was great, and he said in his heart, "Let the Lord find His own way to her spirit." So he continued to speak with her as often as he was near her, telling her of the little things that concerned their household, as well as of the greater things it was good for her soul to know.

It was a touching sight—the lonely man, the outcast among his people, talking with his daughter though she was blind and dumb, telling her of God, of heaven, of death and resurrection, strong in his faith that his words would not fail, but that the casket of her soul would be opened to receive them, and that they would lie within until the great day of judgment, when the Lord Himself would call for them.

Did Naomi hear his words to understand them, or did they fall dead on her ear like birds on a dead sea? In her darkness and her silence was she putting them together, comparing them, interpreting them, pondering them, imitating them, gathering food for her mind from them, and solace for her spirit? Israel did not know; and, watch her face as he would, he could never learn. Hope! Faith! Trust! What else was left to him? He clung to all three, he grappled them to him; they were his sheet-anchor and his pole-star. But one day they seemed to be his calenture also—the false picture of green fields and sweet female faces that rises before the eye of the sailor becalmed at sea.

It was some three weeks after his return from his journey, and the fierce blaze of the sun continued. The storm that had broken over the town had left no results of coolness or moisture, for the ground had been baked hard, and the rain had been too short and swift to penetrate it. And what the withering heat had spared of green leaf and shrub a deadlier blight had swept away. The locusts had lately come up from the south and the east, in numbers exceeding imagination, millions on millions, making the air dark as they passed and obscuring the blue sky. They had swept the country of its verdure, and left a trail of desolation behind them. The grass was gone, the bark of the olives and almonds was stripped away, and the bare trees had the look of winter.

The first to feel the plague had been the cattle and beasts of burden. Without food to eat or water to drink they had died in hundreds. A Mukabar, a cemetery, was made for the animals outside the walls of the town. It was a charnel yard on the hill-side, near to one of the town’s six gates. The dead creatures were not buried there, but merely cast on the bare ground to rot and to bleach in the sun and the heated wind. It was a horrible place.

The skinny dogs of the town soon found it. And after these scavengers of the East had torn the putrefying flesh and gnawed the multitude of bones, they prowled around the country, with tongues lolling out, in search of water. By this time there was none that they could come at nearer than the sea, and that was salt. Nevertheless, they lapped it, so burning was their thirst, and went mad, and came back to the town. Then the people hunted them and killed them.

Now, it chanced that a mad dog from the Mukabar was being hunted to death on a day when Naomi, who had become accustomed to the tumult of the streets, had first ventured out in them alone, save for her goat, that went before her. The goat was grown old, but it was still her constant companion and also it was now her guide and guardian, for the little dumb creature seemed to know that she was frail and helpless. And so it was that she was crossing the Sok el Foki, a market of the town, and hearkening only to the patter of the feet of the goat going in front, when suddenly she heard a hundred footsteps hurrying towards her, with shouts and curses that were loud and deep. She stood in fear on the spot where she was, and no eyes had she to see what happened next, and she had none save the goat to tell her.

But out of one of the dark arcades on the left, leading downward from the hill, the mad dog came running, before a multitude of men and boys. And flying in its despair, it bit out wildly at whatever lay in its way, and Naomi, in her blindness, stood straight in front of it. Then she must have fallen before it, but instantly the goat flung itself across the dog’s open jaws, and butted at its foaming teeth, and sent up shrill cries of terror.

The dog stopped a moment, for such love was human, and it seemed as if the madness of the monster shrank before it. But the people came down with their wild shouts and curses, and the dog sprang upon the goat and felled it, and fled away. The people followed it, and then Naomi was alone in the market-place, and the goat lay at her feet.

Ali found her there, and brought her home to her father’s house in the Mellah, and her dying champion with her. And out of this hard chance, and not out of Israel’s teaching, Naomi was first to learn what life is and what is death. She felt the goat with her hands, and as she did so her fingers shook. Then she lifted it to its feet, and when they slipped from under it she raised her white face in wonder. Again she lifted it, and made strange noises at its ear; but when it did not answer with its bleat her lips began to tremble. Then she listened for its breathing, and felt for its breath; but when neither the one came to her ear, nor the other to her cheek, her own breath beat hot and fast. At length she fondled it in her arms, and kissed it with her lips; and when it gave back no sign of motion nor any sound of voice, a wild labouring rose at her heart. At last, when the power of life was low in it, the goat opened its heavy eyes upon her and put forth its tongue and licked her hand. With that last farewell the brave heart of the little creature broke, and it stretched itself and died.

Israel saw it all. His heart bled to see the parting in silence between those two, for not more dumb was the goat that now was dead than the human soul that was left alive. He tried to put the goat from Naomi’s arms, saying, "It was only a goat, my child; think of it no more," though it smote him with pain to say it, for had not the creature given its life for her life? And where, O God, was the difference between them? But Naomi clung to the goat, and her throat swelled and her bosom fluttered, and her whole body panted, and it was almost as if her soul were struggling to burst through the bonds that bound it, that she might speak and ask and know.

"Oh, what does it mean? Why is it? Why? Why?"

Such were the questions that seemed ready to break from her tongue. And, thinking to answer her, Israel drew her to him and said, "It is dead, my child—the goat is dead."

But as he spoke that word he saw by her face, as by a flash of light in a dark place, that, often as he had told her of death, never until that hour had she known what it was. Then, if the words that he had spoken of death had carried no meaning, what could he hope of the words that he had spoken of life, and of the little things which concerned their household? And if Naomi had not heard the words he had said of these—if she had not pondered and interpreted them—if they had fallen on her ear only as voices in a dark cavern—only as dead birds on a dead sea—what of the other words, the greater words, the words of the Book of the Law and the Prophets, the words of heaven and of the resurrection and of God ?

Had the hope of his heart been vanity? Did Naomi know nothing? Was her great gift a mockery?

Israel’s feet were set in a slippery place. Why had he boasted himself of God’s mercy? What were ears to hear to her that could not understand? Only a torment, a terror, a plague, a perpetual desolation! When Naomi had heard nothing she had known nothing, and never had her spirit asked and cried in vain. Now she was dumb for the first time, being no longer deaf. Miserable man that he was, why had the Lord heard his supplication and why had He received his prayer?

But, repenting of such reproaches, in memory of the joy that Naomi’s new gift had given her, he called on God to give her speech as well.

"Give her speech, O Lord!" he cried, "speech that shall lift her above the creatures of the field, speech whereby alone she may ask and know! Give her speech, O God my God, and Thy servant will be satisfied!"


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Chicago: Hall Caine, "Chapter XIII Naomi’s Great Gift," The Scapegoat; a Romance and a Parable, trans. Evans, Sebastian in The Scapegoat; a Romance and a Parable Original Sources, accessed October 3, 2023,

MLA: Caine, Hall. "Chapter XIII Naomi’s Great Gift." The Scapegoat; a Romance and a Parable, translted by Evans, Sebastian, in The Scapegoat; a Romance and a Parable, Original Sources. 3 Oct. 2023.

Harvard: Caine, H, 'Chapter XIII Naomi’s Great Gift' in The Scapegoat; a Romance and a Parable, trans. . cited in , The Scapegoat; a Romance and a Parable. Original Sources, retrieved 3 October 2023, from