“Take her in!” said the wife of Ben Aboo, and two Arab soldiers stepped up to where the little maiden lay. But before they had touched her Israel strode out with swollen lips and distended nostrils.
“Stop!” he cried.
The Arabs hesitated, and looked towards their master.
“Do as you are bidden—take her in!” said Ben Aboo.
“Stop!” cried Israel again, in a loud voice that rang through the court. Then, parting the Arabs with a sweep of his arms, he picked up the unconscious maiden, and faced about on the new wife of Ben Aboo.
“Madam,” he cried, “I, Israel ben Oliel, may belong to the Governor, but my child belongs to me.”
So saying, he passed out of the court, carrying the girl in his arms, and in the dead silence and blank stupor of that moment none seemed to know what he had done until he was gone.
Israel went home in his anger; but nevertheless, out of this event he found courage in his heart to begin his task again. Let his enemies bleat and bark “Beelzebub,” yet the child was an angel, though suffering for his sin, and her soul was with God. She was a spirit, and the songs she had played were the airs of paradise. But, comforting himself so, Israel remembered the vision of Ruth, wherein Naomi had recovered her powers. He had put it from him hitherto as the delirium of death, but would the Lord yet bring it to pass? Would God in His mercy some day take the angel out of his house, though so strangely gifted, so radiant and beautiful and joyful, and give him instead for the hunger of his heart as a man this sweet human child, his little, fair-haired Naomi, though helpless and simple and weak?
THE VISION OF THE SCAPEGOAT
Israel’s instinct had been sure: the coming of Katrina proved to be the beginning of his end. He kept his office, but he lost his power. No longer did he work his own will in Tetuan; he was required to work the will of the woman. Katrina’s will was an evil one, and Israel got the blame of it, for still he seemed to stand in all matters of tribute and taxation between the people and the Governor. It galled him to take the woman’s wages, but it vexed him yet more to do her work. Her work was to burden the people with taxes beyond all their power of paying; her wages was to be hated as the bane of the bashalic, to be clamoured against as the tyrant of Tetuan, and to be ridiculed by the very offal of the streets.
One day a gang of dirty Arabs in the market-place dressed up a blind beggar in clothes such as Israel wore, and sent him abroad through the town to beg as one that was destitute and in a miserable condition. But nothing seemed to move Israel to pity. Men were cast into prison for no reason save that they were rich, and the relations of such as were there already were allowed to redeem them for money, so that no felon suffered punishment except such as could pay nothing. People took fright and fled to other cities. Israel’s name became a curse and a reproach throughout Barbary.