Then the door of the place was thrown open, and Israel entered. His head was bowed down, and his feet were bare. The people drew their breath in wonder.
“Arise,” he said; “I mean you no harm! See! Here is bread! Take it, and God bless you!”
So saying, he motioned with his trembling hand to where Ali and the muleteer brought in the burden of food behind him.
And when the poor souls could believe it at last, that he whom they had looked for as their judge had come as their saviour, their hearts surged within them. Their hunger left them, and only the children could eat. For a moment they stood in silence about Israel, and their tears stained their wasted faces. And Israel, in their midst, tasted a new joy in his new poverty such as his riches had never brought him—no, not once in all the days of his old prosperity.
At length an old man—he was a Muslim—looked steadily into Israel’s face and said, “May the God of Jacob bless thee also, brother!”
After that they all recovered their voices and began to thank him out of their blind gratitude, falling to their knees at his feet as before, yet with hearts so different.
“May the Father of the fatherless requite thee!”
“May the child of thy wife be blessed!”
“Stop,” he cried; “stop! you don’t know what you are saying.”
He turned away from them with a look of pain, as if their words had stung him. They followed him and touched his kaftan with their lips; they pushed their children under his hands for his blessing.
“No, no,” he cried; “no, no, no!”
Then he passed out of the place with rapid steps and fled from the town like one who was ashamed.
THE MEETING ON THE SOK
Although Israel did not know it, and in the hunger of his heart he would have given all the world to learn it, yet if any man could have peered into the dark chamber where the spirit of Naomi had dwelt seventeen years in silence, he would have seen that, dear as the child was to the father, still dearer and more needful was the father to the child. Since her mother left her he had been eyes of her eyes and ears of her ears, touching her hand for assent, patting her head for approval, and guiding her fingers to teach them signs.
Thus Israel was more to Naomi than any father before to any daughter, more to her than mother or sister or brother or kindred; for he was her sole gateway to the world she lived in, the one alley whereby her spirit gazed upon it, the key that opened the closed doors of her soul; and without him neither could the world come in to her, nor could she go out to the world. Soft and beautiful was the commerce between them, mute on one side of all language save tears and kisses, like the commerce of a mother with her first-born child, as holy in love, as sweet in mystery as pure from taint, and as deep in tenderness. While her father was with her, then only did Naomi seem to live, and her happy heart to be full of wonder at the strange new things that flowed in upon it. And when he was gone from her, she was merely a spirit barred and shut within her body’s close abode, waiting to be born anew.