“And pray what is this I hear of your fine charities, master Israel?” said Ben Aboo. “Ah, do not look surprised. There are little birds enough to twitter of such follies. So you are throwing away silver like bones to the dogs! Pity you’ve got too much of it, Israel ben Oliel; pity you’ve got too much of it, I say.”
“The people are poor, Lord Basha,” said Israel; “they are famishing, and they have no refuge save with God and with us.”
“Tut!” cried Ben Aboo. “A famine in my bashalic! Let no man dare to say so. The whining dogs are preying upon your simpleness, mistress Israel. You poor old grandmother! I always suspected,” he added, facing about upon his attendants, “I always suspected that I was served by a woman. Now I am sure of it.”
Israel felt the indignity. He had given good proof of his manhood in the past by standing five-and-twenty years scapegoat for Ben Aboo between him and his people, making him rich by his extortions, keeping him safe in his seat, and thereby saving him from the wooden jellab which Abd er-Rahman, the Sultan, kept for Kaids that could not pay. But Israel mastered his anger and held his peace.
Word went through the town that Israel had fallen from the favour of the Basha, and then some of the more bold and free laughed at him in the streets when they saw him relieve the miseries of the poor, thinking himself accountable to God for their sufferings. He could have crushed the better part of his insulters to death in his brawny arms, but he was slow to anger and long-suffering. All the heed he paid to their insults was to do his good work with more secrecy.
Remembering his Moorish jellab, and how effectually it had disguised him on the night of his return home, he had recourse to it in this difficulty. When darkness fell he donned it again, drawing the hood well down over his black Jewish skull-cap and as far as might be over his face. In this innocent disguise he went out night after night for many nights among the poorer Moors that lived in the dismal quarters of the grain markets near the Bab Ramooz. How he bore himself being there, with what harmless deceptions he unburdened his soul by stealth, what guileless pretences he made that he might restore to the poor the money that had been stolen from them, would be a long story to tell.
“Who are you?” he was asked a hundred times.
“A friend,” he answered
“Who told you of our trouble?”
“Allah has angels,” he would reply.
Often, on his nightly rambles, he heard himself reviled, and saw the very children of the streets spit over their fingers at the mention of his name. And sometimes as he passed he heard blind people whisper together and say, “He is a saint. He comes from the Kabar at nightfall. Allah sends him to help poor men who have been in the clutches of Israel the Jew.”
Nevertheless, Israel kept his secret. What did the word of man avail for good or evil? It would count for nothing at the last. Do justice and ask nought; neither praise, for it was a wayward wind, nor gratitude, for it was the breath of angels.