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.