The Scapegoat; a Romance and a Parable

Contents:
Author: Hall Caine

Chapter XXII How Naomi Turned Muslima

What had happened to Naomi during the two months and a half while Israel lay at Shawan is this: After the first agony of their parting, in which she was driven back by the soldiers when she attempted to follow them, she sat down in a maze of pain, without any true perception of the evil which had befallen her, but with her father’s warning voice and his last words in her ear: "Stay here. Never leave this place. Whatever they say, stay here. I will come back."

When she awoke in the morning, after a short night of broken sleep and fitful dreams, the voice and the words were with her still, and then she knew for the first time what the meaning was, and what the penalty, of this strange and dread asundering. She was alone, and, being alone, she was helpless; she was no better than a child, without kindred to look to her and without power to look to herself, with food and drink beside her, but no skill to make and take them.

Thus her awakening sense was like that of a lamb whose mother has been swallowed up in the night by the sand-drifts of the simoom. It was not so much love as loss. What to do, where to look, which way to turn first, she knew no longer, and could not think, for lack of the hand that had been wont to guide her.

The neighbouring Moors heard of what had happened to Naomi, and some of the women among them came to see her. They were poor farming people, oppressed by cruel taxmasters; and the first things they saw were the cattle and sheep, and the next thing was the simple girl with the child-face, who knew nothing yet of the ways wherein a lonely woman must fend for herself.

"You cannot live here alone, my daughter," they said; "you would perish. Then think of the danger—a child like you, with a face like a flower! No, no, you must come to us. We will look to you like one of our own, and protect you from evil men. And as for the creatures—"

"But he said I was never to leave this place," said Naomi. "’Stay here,’ he said; ’whatever they say, stay here. I will come back.’"

The women protested that she would starve, be stolen, ruined, and murdered. It was in vain. Naomi’s answer was always the same: "He told me to stay here, and surely I must do so."

Then one after another the poor folks went away in anger. "Tut!" they thought, "what should we want with the Jew child? Allah! Was there ever such a simpleton? The good creatures going to waste, too! And as for her father, he’ll never come back—never. Trust the Basha for that!"

But when the humanity of the true souls had conquered their selfishness, they came again one by one and vied with each other in many simple offices—milking and churning, and baking and delving—in pity of the sweet girl with the great eyes who had been left to live alone. And Naomi, seeing her helplessness at last, put out all her powers to remedy it, so that in a little while she was able to do for herself nearly everything that her neighbours at first did for her. Then they would say among themselves, "Allah! she’s not such a baby after all; and if she wasn’t quite so beautiful, poor child, or if the world wasn’t so wicked—but then, God is great! God is great!"

Not at first had Naomi understood them when they told her that her father had been cast into prison, and every night when she left her lamp alight by the little skin-covered window that was half-hidden under the dropping eaves, and every morning when she opened her door to the radiance of the sun she had whispered to herself and said, "He will come back, Naomi; only wait, only wait; maybe it will be tonight, maybe it will be to-day; you will see, you will see."

But after the awful thought of what prison was had fully dawned upon her as last, by help of what she saw and heard of other men who had been there, her old content in her father’s command that she should never leave that place was shaken and broken by a desire to go to him.

"Who’s to feed him, poor soul? He will be famishing. If the Kaid finds him in bread, it will only be so much more added to his ransom. That will come to the same thing in the end, or he’ll die in prison."

Thus she had heard the gossips talk among themselves when they thought she did not listen. And though it was little she understood of Kaids and ransoms, she was quick to see the nature of her father’s peril, and at length she concluded that, in spite of his injunction, go to him she should and must. With that resolve, her mind, which had been the mind of a child seemed to spring up instantly and become the mind of a woman, and her heart, that had been timid, suddenly grew brave, for pity and love were born in it. "He must be starving in prison," she thought, "and I will take him food."

When her neighbours heard of her intention they lifted their hands in consternation and horror. "God be gracious to my father!" they cried. "Shawan? You? Alone? Child, you’ll be lost, lost—worse, a thousand times worse! Shoof! you’re only a baby still."

But their protests availed as little to keep Naomi at her home now as their importunities had done before to induce her to leave it. "He must be starving in prison," she said, "and I will take him food."

Her neighbours left her to her stubborn purpose.

"Allah!" they said, "who would have believed it, that the little pink-and-white face had such a will of her own!"

Without more ado Naomi set herself to prepare for her journey. She saved up thirty eggs, and baked as many of the round flat cakes of the country; also she churned some butter in the simple way which the women had taught her, and put the milk that was left in a goat’s-skin. In three days she was ready, and then she packed her provisions in the leaf panniers of a mule which one of the neighbours had lent to her, and got up before them on the front of the burda, after the manner of the wives whom she had seen going past to market.

When she was about to start her gossips came again, in pity of her wild errand, to bid her farewell and to see the last of her. "Keep to the track as far as Tetuan," they said to her, "and then ask for the road to Shawan." One old creature threw a blanket over her head in such a way that it might cover her face. "Faces like yours are not for the daylight," the old body whispered, and then Naomi set forward on her journey. The women watched her while she mounted the hill that goes up to the fondak, and then sinks out of sight beyond it. "Poor mad little fool," they whimpered; "that’s the end of her! She’ll never come back. Too many men about for that. And now," they said, facing each other with looks of suspicion and envy, "what of the creatures?"

While the good souls were dividing her possessions among them, Naomi was awakening to some vague sense of her difficulties and dangers. She had thought it would be easy to ask her way, but now that she had need to do so she was afraid to speak. The sight of a strange face alarmed her, and she was terrified when she met a company of wandering Arabs changing pasture, with the young women and children on camels, the old women trudging on foot under loads of cans and kettles, the boys driving the herds, and the men, armed with long flintlocks, riding their prancing barbs. Her poor little mule came to a stand in the midst of this cavalcade, and she was too bewildered to urge it on. Also her fear which had first caused her to cover her face with the blanket that her neighbour had given her, now made her forget to do so, and the men as they passed her peered close into her eyes. Such glances made her blood to tingle. They seared her very soul, and she began to know the meaning of shame.

Nevertheless, she tried to keep up a brave heart and to push forward. "He is starving in prison," she told herself; "I must lose no time." It was a weary journey. Everything was new to her, and nearly everything was terrible. She was even perplexed to see that however far she travelled she came upon men and women and children. It was so strange that all the world was peopled. Yet sometimes she wished there were more people everywhere. That was when she was crossing a barren waste with no house in sight and never a sign of human life on any side. But oftener she wished that the people were not so many; and that was when the children mocked at her mule, or the women jeered at her as if she must needs be a base person because she was alone, or the men laughed and leered into her uncovered face.

Before she had gone many miles her heart began to fail. Everything was unlike what she expected. She had thought the world so good that she had but to say to any that asked her of her errand, "My father is in prison, they say that he is starving; I am taking him food," and every one would help her forward. Though she had never put it to herself so, yet she had reckoned in this way in spite of the warnings of her neighbours. But no one was helping her forward; few were looking on her with goodwill, and fewer still with pity and cheer.

The jogging of the mule, a most bony and stiff-limbed beast, had flattened the panniers that hung by its side, and made the round cakes of bread to protrude from the open mouth of one of them. Seeing this, a line of market-women going by, with bags of charcoal on their backs, snatched a cake each as they passed and munched them and laughed. Naomi tried to protest. "The bread is for my father," she faltered; "he is in prison; they say he—" But the expostulation that began thus timidly broke down of itself, for the women laughed again out of their mouths choked with the bread, and in another moment they were gone.

Naomi’s spirit was crushed, but she tried to keep up a brave front still. To speak of her father again would be to shame him. The poor little illusions of the sweetness and goodness of the world which, in spite of vague recollections of Tetuan, she had struggled, since the coming of her sight, to build up in her fresh young soul, were now tumbling to pieces. After all, the world was very cruel. It was the same as if an angel out of the clouds had fallen on to the earth and found her feet mired with clay.

Six hours after she had set out from her home Naomi came to a fondak which stood in those days outside the walls of Tetuan on the south-western side. The darkness had closed in by this time, and she must needs rest there for the night, but never until then had she reflected that for such accommodation she would need money. Only a few coppers were necessary, only twenty moozoonahs, that she might lie in the shelter and safety of one of the pens that were built for the sleep of human creatures, and that her mule might be tethered and fed on the manure heap that constituted the square space within. At last she bethought her of her eggs, and, though it went to her heart to use for herself what was meant for her father, she parted with twelve of them, and some cakes of the bread besides, that she might be allowed to pass the gate, telling herself repeatedly, with big throbs of remorse between her protestations, that unless she did so her father might never get anything at all.

The fondak was a miserable place, full of farming people who were to go on to market at Tetuan in the morning, of many animals of burden, and of countless dogs. It was the eve of the month of Rabya el-ooal, and between the twilight and the coming of night certain of the men watched for the new moon, and when its thin bow appeared in the sky they signalled its advent after their usual manner by firing their flintlocks into the air, while their women, who were squatting around, kept up a cooing chorus. Then came eating and drinking, and laughing and singing, and playing the ginbri, and feats of juggling, as well as snarling and quarrelling and fighting, and also peacemaking by means of a cudgel wielded by the keeper of the fondak. With such exercises the night passed into morning.

Naomi was sick. Her head ached. The smell of rotten fish, the stench of the manure heap, the braying of the donkeys, the barking of the dogs, the grunt of the camels, and the tumult of human voices made her light-headed. She could neither eat nor sleep. Almost as soon as it was light she was up and out and on her way. "I must lose no time," she thought, trying not to realise that the blue sky was spinning round her, that noises were ringing in her head, and that her poor little heart, which had been so stout only yesterday, was sinking very low.

"He must be starving," she told herself again, and that helped her to forget her own troubles and to struggle on. But oh, if the world were only not so cruel, oh, if there were anyone to give her a word of cheer, nay, a glance of pity! But nobody had looked at her except the women who stole her bread and the men who shamed her with their wicked eyes.

That one day’s experience did more than all her life before it to fill her with the bitter fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Her illusions fell away from her, and her sweet childish faith was broken down. She saw herself as she was: a simple girl, a child ignorant of the ways of the world, going alone on a long journey unknown to her, thinking to succour her father in prison, and carrying a handful of eggs and a few poor cakes of bread. When at length the scales fell from the eyes of her mind, and as she trudged along on her bony mule, afraid to ask her way, she saw herself, with all her fine purposes shrivelled up, do what she would to be brave, she could not help but cry. It was all so vain, so foolish; she was such a weak little thing. Her father knew this, and that was why he told her to stay where he left her. What if he came home while she was absent! Should she go back?

She had almost resolved to return, struggle as she might to push forward, when going close under the town walls, near to the very gate, the Bab Toot whereat she had been cast out with her father remembering this scene of their abasement with a new sense of its cruelty and shame born of her own simple troubles, she lit upon a woman who was coming out.

It was Habeebah. She was now the slave of Ben Aboo, and was just then stealing away from the Kasbah in the early morning that she might go in search of Naomi, whose whereabouts and condition she had lately learned.

The two might have passed unknown, for Habeebah was veiled, but that Naomi had forgotten her blanket and was uncovered. In another moment the poor frightened girl, with all her brave bearing gone, was weeping on the black woman’s breast.

"Whither are you going?" said Habeebah.

"To my father," Naomi began. "He is in prison; they say he is starving; I was taking food to him, but I am lost, I don’t know my way; and besides—"

"The very thing!" cried Habeebah.

Habeebah had her own little scheme. It was meant to win emancipation at the hands of her master, and paradise for her soul when she died. Naomi, who was a Jewess, was to turn Muslima. That was all. Then her troubles would end, and wondrous fortune would descend upon her, and her father who was in prison would be set free.

Now, religion was nothing to Naomi; she hardly understood what it meant. The differences of faith were less than nothing, but her father was everything, and so she clutched at Habeebah’s bold promises like a drowning soul at the froth of a breaker.

"My father will be let out of prison? You are sure—quite sure?" she asked.

"Quite sure," answered Habeebah stoutly.

Naomi’s hopes of ever reaching her father were now faint, and her poor little stock of eggs and bread looked like folly to her new-born worldliness.

"Very well," she said. "I will turn Muslima."

A few minutes afterwards she was riding by Habeebah’s side into the town, through the Bab Toot across the Feddan, and up to the courtyard of the Kasbah, which had witnessed the beginning of her own and her father’s degradation. Then, tethering the beast in the open stables there, Habeebah took Naomi into her own little room and left her alone for some minutes, while she hastened to Ben Aboo in secret with her wondrous news.

"Lord Basha," she said, "the beautiful Jewess Naomi, the daughter of Israel ben Oliel, will turn Muslima."

"Where is she?" said Ben Aboo.

"Sidi," said Habeebah, "I have promised that you will liberate her father."

"Fetch her," said Ben Aboo, "and it shall be done."

But meanwhile Fatimah had gone to Habeebah’s room and found Naomi there, and heard of the vain hope which had brought her.

"My sweet jewel of gold and silver," the black woman cried, "you don’t know what you are doing. Turn Muslima, and you will be parted from your father for ever. He is a Jew, and will have no right to you any more. You will never, never see him again. He will be lost to you—lost—I say—lost!"

Habeebah, with two of the guard, came back to take Naomi to Ben Aboo. The poor girl was bewildered. She had seen nothing but her father in Fatimah’s protest, just as she had seen nothing but her father in Habeebah’s promises. She did not know what to do, she was such a poor weak little thing, and there was no strong hand to guide her.

They led her through dark passages to an open place which she thought she had seen before. It was a great patio, paved and walled with tiles. Men were standing together there in red peaked caps and flowing white kaftans. And before them all was one old man in garments that were of the colour of the afternoon sun, with sleeves like the mouths of bells, a silver knife at his waistband, and little leather bags, hung by yellow cords, about his neck. Beside this man there was a woman of a laughing cruel face, and she herself, Naomi, stood in the midst, with every eye upon her. Where had she seen all this before?

Ben Aboo had often bethought him of the beautiful girl since he committed her father to prison. He cherished schemes concerning her which he did not share with his wife Katrina. But he had hitherto been withheld by two considerations: the first being that he was beset with difficulties arising out of the demands of the Sultan for more money than he could find, and the next that he foresaw the necessity that might perchance arise of recalling Israel to his post. Out of these grave bedevilments he had extricated himself at length by imposing dues on certain tribes of Reefians, who had never yet acknowledged the Sultan’s authority, and by calling on the Sultan’s army to enforce them. The Sultan had come in answer to his summons, the Reefians had been routed, their villages burnt, and that morning at daybreak he had received a message saying that Abd er-Rahman intended to keep the feast of the Moolood at Tetuan. So this capture of Naomi was the luckiest chance that could have befallen him at such a moment. She should witness to the Prophet; her father, the Jew, would thereby lose his rights in her; and he himself, as her sole guardian, would present her as a peace-offering to the Sultan on crossing the boundary of his bashalic.

Such was the new plan which Ben Aboo straightway conceived at hearing the news of Habeebah, and in another moment he had propounded it to Katrina. But when Naomi came into the patio, looking so soft, so timid, so tired, yet so beautiful, so unlike his own painted beauties, with the light of the dawn on her open face, with her clear eyes and the sweet mouth of a child, his evil passions had all they could do not to go back to his former scheme.

"So you wish to turn Muslima?" he said.

Naomi gave one dazed look around, and then cried in a voice of fear "No, no, no!"

Ben Aboo glanced at Habeebah, and Habeebah fell upon Naomi with protests and remonstrances. "She said so," Habeebah cried. "’I will turn Muslima,’ she said. Yes, Sidi, she said so, I swear it!"

"Did you say so?" asked Ben Aboo.

"Yes," said Naomi faintly.

"Then, by Allah, there can be no going back now," said Ben Aboo; and he told her what was the penalty of apostasy. It was death. She must choose between them.

Naomi began to cry, and Ben Aboo to laugh at her and Habeebah to plead with her. Still she saw one thing only. "But what of my father?" she said.

"He shall be liberated," said Ben Aboo.

"But shall I see him again? Shall I go back to him?" said Naomi.

"The girl is a simpleton!" said Katrina.

"She is only a child," said Ben Aboo, and with one glance more at her flower-like face, he committed her for three days to the apartments of his women.

These apartments consisted of a garden overgrown by straggling weeds, with a fountain of muddy water in the middle, an oblong room that was stifling from many perfumes, and certain smaller chambers. The garden was inhabited by a gazelle, whose great startled eyes looked out through the long grass; and the oblong room by a number of women of varying ages, among whom were a matronly Mooress, called Tarha, in a scarlet head-dress, and with a string of great keys swung from shoulder to waist; a Circassian, called Hoolia, in a gorgeous rida of red silk and gold brocade; a Frenchwoman, called Josephine, with embroidered red slippers and black stockings; and a Jewess, called Sol, with a band of silk handkerchiefs tied round her forehead above her coal-black curls, with her fingers pricked out with henna and her eyes darkened with kohl.

Such were Ben Aboo’s wives and concubines and captives, whom he had not divorced according to his promise; and when Naomi came among them they did their duty by their master faithfully. Being trapped themselves, they tried to entrap Naomi also. They overwhelmed her with caresses, they went into ecstasies over her beauty, and caused the future which awaited her to shine before her eyes. She would have a noble husband, magnificent dresses, a brilliant palace, and the world would be at her feet. "And what’s the difference between Moosa and Mohammed?" said Sol; "look at me!" "Tut!" said Josephine, "there’s nothing to choose between them." "For my part," said Tarha, "I don’t see what it matters to us; they say Paradise is for the men!" "And think of the jewels, and the earrings as big as a bracelet," said Hoolia, "instead of this"; and she drew away between her thumb and first finger the blanket which Naomi’s neighbour had given her.

It was all to no purpose. "But what of my father?" Naomi asked again and again.

The women lost patience at her simplicity, gave up their solicitations, ignored her, and busied themselves with their own affairs. "Tut!" they said, "why should we want her to be made a wife of the Sultan? She would only walk over us like dirt whenever she came to Tetuan."

Then, sitting alone in their midst, listening to their talk, their tales, their jests, and their laughter, the unseen mantle fell upon Naomi at last, which made her a woman who had hitherto been a child. In this hothouse of sickly odours these women lived together, having no occupation but that of eating and drinking and sleeping, no education but devising new means of pleasing the lust of their husband’s eye, no delight than that of supplanting one another in his love, no passion but jealousy, no diversion but sporting on the roofs, no end but death and the Kabar.

Seeing the uselessness of the siege, Ben Aboo transferred Naomi to the prison, and set Habeebah to guard her. The black woman was in terror at the turn that events had taken. There was nothing to do now but to go on, so she importuned Naomi with prayers. How could she be so hard-hearted? Could she keep her father famishing in prison when one word out of her lips would liberate him? Naomi had no answer but her tears. She remembered the hareem, and cried.

Then Ben Aboo thought of a daring plan. He called the Grand Rabbi, and commanded him to go to Naomi and convert her to Islam. The Rabbi obeyed with trembling. After all, it was the same God that both peoples worshipped, only the Moors called Him Allah and the Jews Jehovah. Naomi knew little of either. It was not of God that she was thinking: it was only of her father. She was too innocent to see the trick, but the Rabbi failed. He kissed her, and went away wiping his eyes.

Rumour of Naomi’s plight had passed through the town, and one night a number of Moors came secretly to a lane at the back of the Kasbah, where a narrow window opened into her cell. They told her in whispers that what she held as tragical was a very simple matter. "Turn Muslima," they pleaded, "and save yourself. You are too young to die. Resign yourself, for God’s sake." But no answer came back to them where they were gathered in the darkness, save low sobs from inside the wall.

At last Ben Aboo made two announcements. The first, a public one, was that Abd er-Rahman would reach Tetuan within two days, on the opening of the feast of the Moolood, and the other, a private one, that if Naomi had not said the Kelmah by first prayers the following morning she should die and her father be cut off as the penalty of her apostasy.

That night the place under the narrow window in the dark lane was occupied by a group of Jews. "Sister," they whispered, "sister of our people, listen. The Basha is a hard man. This day he has robbed us of all we had that he may pay for the Sultan’s visit. Listen! We have heard something. We want Israel ben Oliel back among us. He was our father, he was our brother. Save his life for the sake of our children, for the Basha has taken their bread. Save him, sister, we beg, we entreat, we pray."

Naomi broke down at last. Next morning at dawn, kneeling among men in the Grand Mosque in the Metamar, she repeated the Word after the Iman: "I testify that there is no God but God, and that our Lord Mohammed is the messenger of God; I am truly resigned."

Then she was taken back to the women’s apartments, and clad gorgeously. Her child face was wet with tears. She was only a poor weak little thing, she knew nothing of religion, she loved her father better than God, and all the world was against her.

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Chicago: Hall Caine, "Chapter XXII How Naomi Turned Muslima," The Scapegoat; a Romance and a Parable, trans. Evans, Sebastian in The Scapegoat; a Romance and a Parable Original Sources, accessed August 21, 2019, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=PBASCIW21GXWGGF.

MLA: Caine, Hall. "Chapter XXII How Naomi Turned Muslima." The Scapegoat; a Romance and a Parable, translted by Evans, Sebastian, in The Scapegoat; a Romance and a Parable, Original Sources. 21 Aug. 2019. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=PBASCIW21GXWGGF.

Harvard: Caine, H, 'Chapter XXII How Naomi Turned Muslima' in The Scapegoat; a Romance and a Parable, trans. . cited in , The Scapegoat; a Romance and a Parable. Original Sources, retrieved 21 August 2019, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=PBASCIW21GXWGGF.