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   Chapter 1 ISRAEL BEN OLIEL

The Scapegoat By Sir Hall Caine Characters: 16900

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:06


Israel was the son of a Jewish banker at Tangier. His mother was the daughter of a banker in London. The father's name was Oliel; the mother's was Sara. Oliel had held business connections with the house of Sara's father, and he came over to England that he might have a personal meeting with his correspondent. The English banker lived over his office, near Holborn Bars, and Oliel met with his family. It consisted of one daughter by a first wife, long dead, and three sons by a second wife, still living. They were not altogether a happy household, and the chief apparent cause of discord was the child of the first wife in the home of the second. Oliel was a man of quick perception, and he saw the difficulty. That was how it came about that he was married to Sara. When he returned to Morocco he was some thousand pounds richer than when he left it, and he had a capable and personable wife into his bargain.

Oliel was a self-centred and silent man, absorbed in getting and spending, always taking care to have much of the one, and no more than he could help of the other. Sara was a nervous and sensitive little woman, hungering for communion and for sympathy. She got little of either from her husband, and grew to be as silent as he. With the people of the country of her adoption, whether Jews or Moors, she made no headway. She never even learnt their language.

Two years passed, and then a child was born to her. This was Israel, and for many a year thereafter he was all the world to the lonely woman. His coming made no apparent difference to his father. He grew to be a tall and comely boy, quick and bright, and inclined to be of a sweet and cheerful disposition. But the school of his upbringing was a hard one. A Jewish child in Morocco might know from his cradle that he was not born a Moor and a Mohammedan.

When the boy was eight years old his father married a second wife, his first wife being still alive. This was lawful, though unusual in Tangier. The new marriage, which was only another business transaction to Oliel, was a shock and a terror to Sara. Nevertheless, she supported its penalties through three weary years, sinking visibly under them day after day. By that time a second family had begun to share her husband's house, the rivalry of the mothers had threatened to extend to the children, the domesticity of home was destroyed and its harmony was no longer possible. Then she left Oliel, and fled back to England, taking Israel with her.

Her father was dead, and the welcome she got of her half-brothers was not warm. They had no sympathy with her rebellion against her husband's second marriage. If she had married into a foreign country, she should abide by the ways of it. Sara was heartbroken. Her health had long been poor, and now it failed her utterly. In less than a month she died. On her deathbed she committed her boy to the care of her brothers, and implored them not to send him back to Morocco.

For years thereafter Israel's life in London was a stern one. If he had no longer to submit to the open contempt of the Moors, the kicks and insults of the streets, he had to learn how bitter is the bread that one is forced to eat at another's table. When he should have been still at school he was set to some menial occupation in the bank at Holborn Bars, and when he ought to have risen at his desk he was required to teach the sons of prosperous men the way to go above him. Life was playing an evil game with him, and, though he won, it must be at a bitter price.

Thus twelve years went by, and Israel, now three-and-twenty, was a tall, silent, very sedate young man, clear-headed on all subjects, and a master of figures. Never once during that time had his father written to him, or otherwise recognised his existence, though knowing of his whereabouts from the first by the zealous importunities of his uncles. Then one day a letter came written in distant tone and formal manner, announcing that the writer had been some time confined to his bed, and did not expect to leave it; that the children of his second wife had died in infancy; that he was alone, and had no one of his own flesh and blood to look to his business, which was therefore in the hands of strangers, who robbed him; and finally, that if Israel felt any duty towards his father, or, failing that, if he had any wish to consult his own interest, he would lose no time in leaving England for Morocco.

Israel read the letter without a throb of filial affection; but, nevertheless, he concluded to obey its summons. A fortnight later he landed at Tangier. He had come too late. His father had died the day before. The weather was stormy, and the surf on the shore was heavy, and thus it chanced that, even while the crazy old packet on which he sailed lay all day beating about the bay, in fear of being dashed on to the ruins of the mole, his father's body was being buried in the little Jewish cemetery outside the eastern walls, and his cousins, and cousins' cousins, to the fifth degree, without loss of time or waste of sentiment, were busily dividing his inheritance among them.

Next day, as his father's heir, he claimed from the Moorish court the restitution of his father's substance. But his cousins made the Kadi, the judge, a present of a hundred dollars, and he was declared to be an impostor, who could not establish his identity. Producing his father's letter which had summoned him from London, he appealed from the Kadi to the Aolama, men wise in the law, who acted as referees in disputed cases; but it was decided that as a Jew he had no right in Mohammedan law to offer evidence in a civil court. He laid his case before the British Consul, but was found to have no claim to English intervention, being a subject of the Sultan both by birth and parentage. Meantime, his dispute with his cousins was set at rest for ever by the Governor of the town, who, concluding that his father had left neither will nor heirs, confiscated everything he had possessed to the public treasury-that is to say, to the Kaid's own uses.

Thus he found himself without standing ground in Morocco, whether as a Jew, a Moor, or an Englishman, a stranger in his father's country, and openly branded as a cheat. That he did not return to England promptly was because he was already a man of indomitable spirit. Besides that, the treatment he was having now was but of a piece with what he had received at all times. Nothing had availed to crush him, even as nothing ever does avail to crush a man of character. But the obstacles and torments which make no impression on the mind of a strong man often make a very sensible impression on his heart; the mind triumphs, it is the heart that suffers; the mind strengthens and expands after every besetting plague of life, but the heart withers and wears away.

So far from flying from Morocco when things conspired together to beat him down, Israel looked about with an equal mind for the means of settling there.

His opportunity came early. The Governor, either by qualm of conscience or further freak of selfishness, got him the place of head of the Oomana, the three Administrators of Customs at Tangier. He held the post six months only, to the complete satisfaction of the Kaid, but amid the muttered discontent of the merchants and tradesmen. Then the Governor of Tetuan, a bigger town lying a long day's journey to the east, hearing of Israel that as Ameen of Tangier he had doubled the custom revenues in half a year, invited him to fill an informal, unofficial, and irregular position as assessor of tributes.

Now, it would be a long task to tell of the work which Israel did in his new calling: how he regulated the market dues, and appointed a Mut'hasseb, a clerk of the market, to collect them-so many moozoonahs for every camel sold, so many for every horse, mule, and ass, so many floos for every fowl, and so many metkals for the purchase and sale of every slave; how he numbered the houses and made lists of the trades, assessing their tribute by the value of their businesses-so much for gun-making, so much for weaving, so much for tanning, and so on through the line of them, great and small, good and bad, even from the trades of the Jewish silversmiths and the Moorish packsaddle-makers down to the callings of the Arab water-carriers and the ninety public women.

All this he did by the strict law and letter of the Koran, which e

ntitled the Sultan to a tithe of all earnings whatsoever; but it would not wrong the truth to say that he did it also by the impulse of a sour and saddened heart. The world had shown no mercy to him, and he need show no mercy to the world. Why talk of pity? It was only a name, an idea a mocking thought. In the actual reckoning of life there was no such name as pity. Thus did Israel justify himself in all his dealings, whatever their severity and the rigour wherewith they wrought.

And the people felt the strong hand that was on them, and they cursed it.

"Ya Allah! Allah!" the Moors would cry. "Who is this Jew-this son of the English-that he should be made our master?"

They muttered at him in the streets, they scowled upon him, and at length they insulted him openly. Since his return from England he had resumed the dress of his race in his country-the long dark gabardine or kaftan, with a scarf for girdle, the black slippers, and the black skull-cap. And, going one day by the Grand Mosque, a group of the beggars; who lay always by the gate, called on him to uncover his feet.

"Jew! Dog!" they cried, "there is no god but God! Curses on your relations! Off with your slippers!"

He paid no heed to their commands, but made straight onward. Then one blear-eyed and scab-faced cripple scrambled up and struck off his cap with a crutch. He picked it up again without a look or a word, and strode away. But next morning, at early prayers, there was a place empty at the door of the mosque. Its accustomed occupant lay in the prison at the Kasbah.

And if the Muslimeen hated Israel for what he was doing for their Governor, the Jews hated him yet more because it was being done for a Moor.

"He has sold himself to our enemy," they said, "against the welfare of his own nation."

At the synagogue they ignored him, and in taking the votes of their people they counted others and passed him by. He showed no malice. Only his strong face twitched at each fresh insult and his head was held higher. Only this, and one other sign of suffering in that secret place of his withering heart, which God's eye alone could see.

Thus far he had done no more to Moor and Jew than exact that tenth part of their substance which the faiths of both required that they should pay. But now his work went further. A little group of old Jews, all held in honour among their people-Abraham Ohana, nicknamed Pigman, son of a former rabbi; Judah ben Lolo, an elder of his synagogue; and Reuben Maliki, keeper of the poor-box-were seized and cast into the Kasbah for gross and base usury.

At this the Jewish quarter was thrown into wild hubbub. The hand that was on their people was a daring and terrible one. None doubted whose hand it was-it was the hand of young Israel the Jew.

When the three old usurers had bought themselves out of the Kasbah, they put their heads together and said, "Let us drive this fellow out of the Mellah, and so shall he be driven out of the town." Then the owner of the house which Israel rented for his lodging evicted him by a poor excuse, and all other Jewish owners refused him as tenant. But the conspiracy failed. By command of the Governor, or by his influence, Israel was lodged by the Nadir, the administrator of mosque property, in one of the houses belonging to the mosque on the Moorish side of the Mellah walls.

Seeing this, the usurers laid their heads together again and said, "Let us see that no man of our nation serve him, and so shall his life be a burden." Then the two Jews who had been his servants deserted him, and when he asked for Moors he was told that the faithful might not obey the unbeliever; and when he would have sent for negroes out of the Soudan he was warned that a Jew might not hold a slave. But the conspiracy failed again. Two black female slaves from Soos, named Fatimah and Habeebah, were bought in the name of the Governor and assigned to Israel's service.

And when it was seen at length that nothing availed to disturb Israel's material welfare, the three base usurers laid their heads together yet again, that they might prey upon his superstitious fears, and they said, "He is our enemy, but he is a Jew: let the woman who is named the prophetess put her curse upon him." Then she who was so called, one Rebecca Bensabbot, deaf as a stone, weak in her intellect, seventy years of age, and living fifty years on the poor-box which Reuben Maliki kept, crossed Israel in the streets, and cursed him as a son of Beelzebub predicting that, even as he had made the walls of the Kasbah to echo with the groans of God's elect, so should his own spirit be broken within them and his forehead humbled to the earth. He stood while he heard her out, and his strong lip trembled at he words; but he only smiled coldly, and passed on in silence.

"The clouds are not hurt," he thought, "by the bark of dogs."

Thus did his brethren of Judah revile him, and thus did they torture him; yet there was one among them who did neither. This was the daughter of their Grand Rabbi, David ben Ohana. Her name was Ruth. She was young, and God had given her grace and she was beautiful, and many young Jewish men, of Tetuan had vied with each other in vain for he favour. Of Israel's duty she knew little, save what report had said of it, that it was evil; and of the act which had made him an outcast among his own people, and an Ishmael among the sons of Ishmael she could form no judgment. But what a woman's eyes might see in him, without help of other knowledge, that she saw.

She had marked him in the synagogue, that his face was noble and his manners gracious; that he was young, but only as one who had been cheated of his youth and had missed his early manhood, the when he was ignored he ignored his insult, and when he was reviled he answered not again; in a word, the he was silent and strong and alone, and, above all that he was sad.

These were credentials enough to the true girl's favour, and Israel soon learnt that the house of the Rabbi was open to him. There the lonely man first found himself. The cold eyes of his little world had seen him as his father's son, but the light and warmth of the eyes of Ruth saw him as the son of his mother also. The Rabbi himself was old, very old-ninety years of age-and length of days had taught him charity. And so it was that when, in due time, Israel came with many excuses and asked for Ruth in marriage, the Rabbi gave her to him.

The betrothal followed, but none save the notary and his witnesses stood beside Israel when he crossed hands over the handkerchief; and, when the marriage came in its course, few stood beside the Chief Rabbi. Nevertheless, all the Jews of the quarter and all the Moors of Tetuan were alive to what was happening, and on the night of the marriage a great company of both peoples, though chiefly of the rabble among them, gathered in front of the Rabbi's house that they might hiss and jeer.

The Chacham heard them from where he sat under the stars in his patio, and when at last the voice of Rebecca the prophetess came to him above the tumult, crying, "Woe to her that has married the enemy of her nation, and woe to him that gave her against the hope of his people! They shall taste death. He shall see them fall from his side and die," then the old man listened and trembled visibly. In confusion and fierce anger he rose up and stumbled through the crooked passage to the door, and flinging it wide, he stood in the doorway facing them that stood without.

"Peace! Peace!" he cried, "and shame! shame! Remember the doom of him that shall curse the high priest of the Lord."

This he spoke in a voice that shook with wrath. Then suddenly, his voice failing him, he said in a broken whisper, "My good people, what is this? Your servant is grown old in your service. Sixty and odd years he has shared your sorrows and your burdens. What has he done this day that your women should lift up their voices against him?"

But, in awe of his white head in the moonlight, the rabble that stood in the darkness were silent and made no answer. Then he staggered back, and Israel helped him into his house, and Ruth did what she could to compose him. But he was woefully shaken, and that night he died.

When the Rabbi's death became known in the morning, the Jews whispered, "It is the first-fruits!" and the Moors touched their foreheads and murmured "It is written!"

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