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   Chapter 6 THE SPIRIT-MAID

The Scapegoat By Sir Hall Caine Characters: 17880

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:06

The promise which Israel made to Ruth at her death, that Naomi should not lack for love and tending, he faithfully fulfilled. From that time forward he became as father and mother both to the child.

At the outset of his charge he made a survey of her condition, and found it more terrible than imagination of the mind could think or words of the tongue express. It was easy to say that she was deaf and dumb and blind, but it was hard to realise what so great an affliction implied. It implied that she was a little human sister standing close to the rest of the family of man, yet very far away from them. She was as much apart as if she had inhabited a different sphere. No human sympathy could reach her in joy or pain and sorrow. She had no part to play in life. In the midst of a world of light she was in a land of darkness, and she was in a world of silence in the midst of a land of sweet sounds. She was a living and buried soul.

And of that soul itself what did Israel know? He knew that it had memory, for Naomi had remembered her mother; and he knew that it had love, for she had pined for Ruth, and clung to her. But what were love and memory without sight and speech? They were no more than a magnet locked in a casket-idle and useless to any purposes of man or the world.

Thinking of this, Israel realised for the first time how awful was the affliction of his motherless girl. To be blind was to be afflicted once, but to be both blind and deaf was not only to be afflicted twice, but twice ten thousand times, and to be blind and deaf and dumb was not merely to be afflicted thrice, but beyond all reckonings of human speech.

For though Naomi had been blind, yet, if she could have had hearing, her father might have spoken with her, and if she had sorrows he must have soothed them, and if she had joys he must have shared them, and in this beautiful world of God, so full of things to look upon and to love, he must have been eyes of her eyes that could not see. On the other hand, though Naomi had been deaf, yet if she could have had sight her father might have held intercourse with her by the light of her eyes, and if she felt pain he must have seen it, and if she had found pleasure he must have known it, and what man is, and what woman is, and what the world and what the sea and what the sky, would have been as an open book for her to read. But, being blind and deaf together, and, by fault of being deaf, being dumb as well, what word was to describe the desolation of her state, the blank void of her isolation-cut off, apart, aloof, shut in, imprisoned, enchained, a soul without communion with other souls: alive, and yet dead?

Thus, realising Naomi's condition in; the deep infirmity of her nature, Israel set himself to consider how he could reach her darkened and silent soul. And first he tried to learn what good gifts were left to her, that he might foster them to her advantage and nourish them to his own great comfort and joy. Yet no gift whatever could he find in her but the one gift only whereof he had known from the beginning-the gift of touch and feeling. With this he must make her to see, or else her light should always be darkness, and with this he must make her to hear, or silence should be her speech for ever.

Then he remembered that during his years in England he had heard strange stories of how the dumb had been made to speak though they could not hear, and the blind and deaf to understand and to answer. So he sent to England for many books written on the treatment of these children of affliction, and when they were come he pondered them closely and was thrilled by the marvellous works they described. But when he came to practise the precepts they had given him, his spirits flagged, for the impediments were great. Time after time he tried, and failed always, to touch by so much as one shaft of light the hidden soul of the child through its tenement of flesh and blood. Neither the simplest thought nor the poorest element of an idea found any way to her mind, so dense were the walls of the prison that encompassed it. "Yes" was a mystery that could not at first be revealed to her, and "No" was a problem beyond her power to apprehend. Smiles and frowns were useless to teach her. No discipline could be addressed to her mind or heart. Except mere bodily restraint, no control could be imposed upon her. She was swayed by her impulses alone.

Israel did not despair. If he was broken down today he strengthened his hands for tomorrow. At length he had got so far, after a world of toil and thought, that Naomi knew when he patted her head that it was for approval, and when he touched her hand it was for assent. Then he stopped very suddenly. His hope had not drooped, and neither had his energy failed, but the conviction had fastened upon him that such effort in his case must be an offence against Heaven. Naomi was not merely an infirm creature from the left hand of Nature; she was an afflicted being from the right hand of God. She was a living monument of sin that was not her own. It was useless to go farther. The child must be left where God had placed her.

But meanwhile, if Naomi lacked the senses of the rest of the human kind, she seemed to communicate with Nature by other organs than they possessed. It was as if the spiritual world itself must have taught her, and from that source alone could she have imbibed her power. To tell of all she could do to guide her steps, and to minister to her pleasures, and to cherish her affections, would be to go beyond the limit of belief. Truly it seemed as if Naomi, being blind with her bodily eyes, could yet look upon a light that no one else could see, and, being deaf with her bodily ears, could yet listen to voices that no one else could hear.

Thus, if she came skipping through the corridor of the patio, she knew when any one approached her, for she would hold out her hands and stop. Nay; but she knew also who it would be as well as if her eyes or ears had taught her; for always, if it was her father, she reached out her hands to take his left hand in both of hers, and then she pressed it against her cheek; and always, if it was little Ali, she curved her arms to encircle his neck; and always, if it was Fatimah, she leapt up to her bosom; and always, if it was Habeebah, she passed her by. Did she go with Ali into the streets, she knew the Mellah gate from the gate of the town, and the narrow lanes from the open Sok. Did she pass the lofty mosque in the market-place, she knew it from the low shops that nestled under and behind and around. Did a troop of mules and camels come near her, she knew them from a crowd of people; and did she pass where two streets crossed, she would stand and face both ways.

And as the years grew she came to know all places within and around Tetuan, the town of the Moors and the Mellah of the Jews, the Kasbah and the narrow lane leading up to it, the fort on the hill and the river under the town walls, the mountains on either side of the valley, and even some of their rocky gorges. She could find her way among them all without help or guidance, and no control could any one impose upon her to keep her out of the way of harm. While Ali was a little fellow he was her constant companion, always ready for any adventure that her unquiet heart suggested; but when he grew to be a boy, and was sent to school every day early and late, she would fare forth alone save for a tiny white goat which her father had bought to be another playfellow.

And because feeling was sight to her, and touch was hearing, and the crown of her head felt the winds of the heavens and the soles of her feet felt the grass of the fields, she loved best to go bareheaded whether the sun was high or the air was cool, and barefooted also, from the rising of the morning until the coming of the stars. So, casting off her slippers and the great straw hat which a Jewish maiden wears, and clad in her white woollen shawl, wrapped loosely about her in folds of airy grace, and with the little goat going before her, though she could neither see nor hear it, she would climb the hill beyond the battery, and stand on the summit, like a spirit poised in air. She could see nothing of the green valley then stretched before her, or of the white town lying below, with its domes and minarets, but she seemed to exult in her lofty place, and to drink new life from the rush of mighty winds about her. Then coming back to the dale, she would seem, to those who looked up at her, with fear and with awe, to leap as the goat leapt in the rocky places; and as a bird sweeps over the grass with wings outstretched, so with her arms spread out, and her long fair hair flying loose, she would sweep down the hill, as though her very tiptoes did not touch it.

By what power she did these things no man could tell, except it were the power of the spiritual world

itself; but the distemper of the mind, which loved such dangers, increased upon her as she grew from a child into a maid, and it found new ways of strangeness. Thus, in the spring, when the rain fell heavily, or in the winter, when the great winds were abroad, or in the summer, when the lightning lightened and the thunder thundered, her restless spirit seemed to be roused to sympathetic tumults, and if she could escape the eyes that watched her she would run and race in the tempest, and her eyes would be aglitter, and laughter would be on her lips. Then Israel himself would go out to find her, and, having found her in the pelting storm without covering on her head or shoes on her feet, he would fetch her home by the hand, and as they passed through the streets together his forehead would be bowed and his eyes bent down.

But it was not always that Naomi made her father ashamed. More often her joyful spirit cheered him, for above all things else she was a creature of joy. A circle of joy seemed to surround her always. Her heart in its darkness was full of radiance. As she grew her comeliness increased, though this was strange and touching in her beauty, that her face did not become older with her years, but was still the face of a child, with a child's expression of sweetness through the bloom and flush of early maidenhood. Her love of flowers increased also, and the sense of smell seemed to come to her, for she filled the house with all fragrant flowers in their season, twining them in wreaths about the white pillars of the patio, and binding them in rings around the brown water-jars that stood in it. And with the girl's expanding nature her love of dress increased as well; but it was not a young maid's love of lovely things; it was a wild passion for light, loose garments that swayed and swirled in native grace about her. Truly she was a spirit of joy and gladness. She was happy as a day in summer, and fresh as a dewy morning in spring. The ripple of her laughter was like sunshine. A flood of sunshine seemed to follow in the air wheresoever she went. And certainly for Israel, her father, she was as a sunbeam gathering sunshine into his lonely house.

Nevertheless, the sunbeam had its cloud-shapes of gloom, and if Israel in his darker hours hungered for more human company, and wished that the little playfellow of the angels which had come down to his dwelling could only be his simple human child, he sometimes had his wish, and many throbs of anguish with it. For often it happened, and especially at seasons when no winds were stirring, and blank peace and a doleful silence haunted the air, that Naomi would seem to fall into a sick longing from causes that were beyond Israel's power to fathom. Then her sweet face would sadden, and her beautiful blind eyes would fill, and her pretty laughter would echo no more through the house. And sometimes, in the dead of the night, she would rise from her bed and go through the dark corridors, for darkness and light were as one to her, until she came to Israel's room, and he would awake from his sleep to find her, like a little white vision, standing by his bedside. What she wanted there he could never know, for neither had he power to ask nor she to answer, whether she were sick or in pain, or whether in her sleep she had seen a face from the invisible world, and heard a voice that called her away, or whether her mother's arms had seemed to be about her once again and then to be torn from her afresh, and she had come to him on awakening in her trouble, not knowing what it is to dream, but thinking all evil dreams to be true fact and new sorrow. So, with a sigh, he would arise and light his lamp and lead her back to her bed, and more scalding than the tears that would be standing in Naomi's eyes would be the hot drops that would gush into his own.

"My poor darling," he would say, "can you not tell me your trouble, that I may comfort you? No, no, she cannot tell me, and I cannot comfort her. My darling, my darling."

Most of all when such things befell would Israel long for some miracle out of heaven to find a way to the little maiden's mind that she might ask and answer and know, yet he dared not to pray for it, for still greater than his pity for the child was his fear of the wrath of God. And out of this fear there came to him at length an awful and terrible thought: though so severed on earth, his child and he, yet before the bar of judgment they would one day be brought together, and then how should it stand with her soul?

Naomi knew nothing of God, having no way of speech with man. Would God condemn her for that, and cast her out for ever? No, no, no! God would not ask her for good works in the land of silence, and for labour in the land of night. She had no eyes to see God's beautiful world, and no ears to hear His holy word. God had created her so, and He would not destroy what He had made. Far rather would He look with love and pity on His little one, so long and sorely tried on earth, and send her at last to be a blessed saint in heaven.

Israel tried to comfort himself so, but the effort was vain. He was a Jew to the inmost fibre of his being, and he answered himself out of his own mouth that it was his own sinful wish, and not God's will, that had sent Naomi into the world as she was. Then, on the day of the great account, how should he answer to her for her soul?

Visions stood up before him of endless retribution for the soul that knew not God. These were the most awful terrors of his sleepless nights, but at length peace came to him, for he saw his path of duty. It was his duty to Naomi that he should tell her of God and reveal the word of the Lord to her! What matter if she could not hear? Though she had senses as the sands of the seashore, yet in the way of light the Lord alone could lead her. What matter though she could not see? The soul was the eye that saw God, and with bodily eyes had no man seen Him.

So every day thereafter at sunset Israel took Naomi by the hand and led her to an upper room, the same wherein her mother died, and, fetching from a cupboard of the wall the Book of the Law, he read to her of the commandments of the Lord by Moses, and of the Prophets, and of the Kings. And while he read Naomi sat in silence at his feet, with his one free hand in both of her hands, clasped close against her cheek.

What the little maid in her darkness thought of this custom, what mystery it was to her and wherefore, only the eye that looks into darkness could see; but it was so at length that as soon as the sun had set-for she knew when the sun was gone-Naomi herself would take her father by the hand, and lead him to the upper room, and fetch the book to his knees.

And sometimes, as Israel read, an evil spirit would seem to come to him, and make a mock at him, and say, "The child is deaf and hears not-go read your book in the tombs!" But he only hardened his neck and laughed proudly. And, again, sometimes the evil spirit seemed to say, "Why waste yourself in this misspent desire? The child is buried while she is still alive, and who shall roll away the stone?" But Israel only answered, "It is for the Lord to do miracles, and the Lord is mighty."

So, great in his faith, Israel read to Naomi night after night, and when his spirit was sore of many taunts in the day his voice would be hoarse, and he would read the law which says, "Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling-block before the blind." But when his heart was at peace his voice would be soft, and he would read of the child Samuel sanctified to the Lord in the temple, and how the Lord called him and he answered-

"And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see; and ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the Lord, where the Ark of God was, and Samuel was laid down to sleep, that the Lord called Samuel, and he answered, Here am I. And he ran unto Eli and said, Here am I, for thou calledst me. And he said, I called not; lie down again. And he went and lay down. And the Lord called yet again, Samuel. And Samuel rose and went to Eli and said, Here am I for thou didst call me. And he answered, I called not my son; lie down again. Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, neither was the word of the Lord yet revealed to him."

And, having finished his reading, Israel would close the book, and sing out of the Psalms of David the psalm which says, "It is good for me that I have been in trouble, that I may learn Thy statutes."

Thus, night after night, when the sun was gone down, did Israel read of the law and sing of the Psalms to Naomi, his daughter, who was both blind and deaf. And though Naomi heard not, and neither did she see, yet in their silent hour together there was another in their chamber always with them-there was a third, for there was God.

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