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   Chapter 28 “ALLAH-U-KABAR”

The Scapegoat By Sir Hall Caine Characters: 11166

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:06


Travelling through the night,-Naomi laughing and singing snatches in her new-found joy, and the Mahdi looking back at intervals at the huge outline of Tetuan against the blackness of the sky,-they came to the hut by Semsa before dawn of the following day. But they had come too late. Israel ben Oliel was not, after all, to set out for England. He was going on a longer journey. His lonely hour had come to him, his dark hour wherein none could bear him company. On a mattress by the wall he lay outstretched, unconscious, and near to his end. Two neighbours from the village were with him, and but for these he must have been alone-the mighty man in his downfall deserted by all save the great Judge and God.

What Naomi did when the first shock of this hard blow fell upon her, what she said, and how she bore herself, it would be a painful task to tell. Oh, the irony of fate! Ay, the irony of God! That scene, and what followed it, looked like a cruel and colossal jest-none the less cruel because long drawn out and as old as the days of Job.

It was useless to go out in search of a doctor. The country was as innocent of leechcraft as the land of Canaan in the days of Abraham. All they could do was to submit, absolutely and unconditionally. They were in God's hands.

The light was coming yellow and pink through the window under the eaves as Israel awoke to consciousness. He opened his eyes as if from sleep, and saw Naomi beside him. No surprise did he show at this, and neither did he at first betray pleasure. Dimly and softly he looked upon her, and then something that might have been a smile but for lack of strength passed like sunshine out of a cloud across his wasted face. Naomi pressed a pillow-under his loins, and another under his head, thinking to ease the one and raise the other. But the iron hand of unconsciousness fell upon him again, and through many hours thereafter Naomi and the Mahdi sat together in silence with the multitudinous company of invisible things.

During that interval Fatimah came in hot haste, and they had news of Tetuan. The Spaniards had taken the town, but Abd er-Rahman and most of his Ministers had escaped. Ben Aboo had tried to follow them, but he had been killed in the alcove of the patio. Ali had killed him. He had rushed in upon him through a line of his guards. One of the guards had killed Ali. The brave black lad had fallen with the name of Israel on his lips and with a dauntless shout of triumph. The Kasbah was afire; it had been burning since the banquet of the night before.

Towards sunset peace fell upon Israel ben Oliel, and then they knew that the end was very near. Naomi was still kneeling at his right hand, and the Mahdi was standing at his left. Israel looked at the girl with a world of tenderness, though the hard grip of death was fast stiffening his noble face. More than once he glanced at the Mahdi also as if he wished to say something, and yet could not do so, because the power of life was low; but at last his voice found strength.

"I have left it too late," he said. "I cannot go to England."

Naomi wept more than ever at the sound of these faltering words, and it was not without effort that the Mahdi answered him.

"Think no more of that," he said, and then he stopped, as if the word that he had been about to speak had halted on his tongue.

"It is hard to leave her," said Israel, "for she is alone; and who will protect her when I am gone?"

"God lives," said the Mahdi, "and He is Father to the fatherless."

"But what Jew," said Israel, "would not repeat for her her father's troubles, and what Muslim could save her from her own?"

"Who that trusts in God," said the Mahdi, "need fear the Kaid?"

"But what man can save her?" cried Israel again.

And then the Mahdi, touched by Naomi's tears as well as her father's importunities, answered out of a hot heart and said-

"Peace, peace! If there is no one else to take her, from this day forward she shall go with me."

Naomi looked up at him then with such a light in her beautiful eyes as he has often since, but had never before seen there, and Israel ben Oliel who had been holding at his hand, clutched suddenly at his wrist.

"God bless you!" he said, as well as he could for the two angels, the angel of love and the angel of death, were struggling at his throat.

Israel looked steadily at the Mahdi for a moment more, and then said very softly-

"Death may come to me now; I am ready. Farewell, my father! I tried to do your bidding. Do you remember your watchword? But God has given me rewards for repentance-see," and he turned his eyes towards the eyes of Naomi with a wasting yet sunny smile.

"God is good," said the Mahdi; "lie still, lie still," and he laid his cool hand on Israel's forehead.

"I am leaving her to you," said Israel; "and you alone can protect her of all men living in this land accursed of God, for God's right arm is round you. Yes, God is good. As long as you live you will cherish her. Never was she so dear to me as now, so sweet, so lovable, so gentle. But you will be good to her. God is very good to me. Guard her as the apple of your eye. It will reward you. And let her think of me sometimes-only sometimes. Ah! how nearly I shipwrecked all this! Remember! Remember!"

"Hush, hush! Do not increase your pains," said the Mahdi. "Are you feeling better now?"

"I am feeling well," said Israel, "and happy-so happy."

The sun had set, and the swift twilight was passing into night, when another messenger arrived from Tetuan. It was Ali's o

ld Taleb, shedding tears for his boy, but boasting loudly of his brave death. He had heard of it from the black guards themselves. After Ali fell he lived a moment, though only in unconsciousness. The boy must have thought himself back at Israel's side, "I've done it, father," he said; "he'll never hurt you again. You won't drive me away from you any more; will you, father?"

They could see that Israel had heard the story. The eyes of the dying are dry, but well they knew that the heart of the man was weeping.

The Taleb came with the idea that Israel also was gone, for a rumour to that effect had passed through the town. "El hamdu l'Illah!" he cried, when he saw that Israel was still alive. But then he remembered something, and whispered in the Mahdi's farther ear that a vast concourse of Moors and Jews including his own vast fellowship was even then coming out to bury Israel, thinking he was dead.

Israel overheard him and smiled. It seemed as if he laughed a little also. "It will soon be true," he muttered under his breath, that came so quick. And hardly had he spoken when a low deep sound came from the distance. It was the funeral wail of Israel ben Oliel.

Nearer and nearer it came, and clearer and more clear. First a mighty bass voice: "Allah Akbar!" Again another and another voice: "Allah Akbar!" and then the long roar of a vast multitude: "Al-l-lah-u-kabar!" Finally a slow melancholy wail, rising and falling on the darkening air: "There is no God but God, and Mohammed is the Prophet of God."

It was a solemn sound-nay, an awful one, with the man himself alive to hear it.

O gratitude that is only a death-song! O fame that is only a funeral!

Israel listened and smiled again. "Ah, God is great!" he whispered; "God is great!"

To ease his labouring chest a moment the Mahdi rose and stepped to the door, and then in the distance he could descry the procession approaching-a moving black shadow against the sky. Also over their billowy heads he could see a red glow far away in the clouds. It was the last smouldering of the fire of the modern Sodom.

While he stood there he was startled by the sound of a thick voice behind him. It was Israel's voice. He was speaking to Naomi. "Yes," he was saying, "it is hard to part. We were going to be very happy. . . . But you must not cry. Listen! When I am there-eh? you know, there-I will want to say, 'Father, you did well to hear my prayer. My little daughter-she is happy, she is merry, and her soul is all sunshine.' So you must not weep. Never, never, never! Remember! . . . . Ah! that's right, that's right. My simple-hearted darling! My sunny, merry, happy girl!"

Naomi was trying to laugh in obedience to her father's will. She was combing his white beard with her fingers-it was knotted and tangled-and he was labouring hard to speak again.

"Naomi, do you remember?" he said; and then he tried to sing, and even to lisp the words as he sang them, just as a child might have done. "Do you remember-

Within my heart a voice

Bids earth and heaven rejoice,

Sings 'Love'-"

But his strength was spent, and he had to stop.

"Sing it," he whispered, with a poor broken smile at his own failure. And then the brave girl-all courage and strength, a quivering bow of steel-took up the song where he had left it, though her voice trembled and the tears started to her eyes.

As Naomi sang Israel made some poor shift to beat the time to her, though once and again his feeble hand fell back into his breast. When she had done singing Israel looked at the Mahdi and then at her, and smiled, as if he and she and the song were one to him.

But indeed Naomi had hardly finished when the wail came again, now nearer than before, and louder. Israel heard it. "Hark! They are coming. Keep close," he muttered.

He fumbled and tugged with one hand at the breast of his kaftan. The Mahdi thought his throat wanted air, but Naomi, with the instinct of help that a woman has in scenes like these, understood him better. In the disarray of his senses this was his way of trying to raise himself that he might listen the easier to the song outside. The girl slid her arm under his neck, and then his shrunken hand was at rest. "Ah! closer. 'God is great'!" he murmured again. "'God-is-great'!" With that word on his lips he smiled and sighed, and sank back. It was now quite dark.

When the Mahdi returned to his place at Israel's feet the dying man seemed to have been feeling for his hand. Taking it now, he brought it to his breast, where Naomi's hand lay under his own trembling one. With that last effort, and a look into the girl's face that must have pursued him home, his grand eyes closed for ever.

In the silence that followed after the departing spirit the deep swell of the funeral wail came rolling heavily on the night air: "Allah Akbar! Al-lah-u-kabar!"

In a few minutes more the procession of the people of Tetuan who had come out to bury Israel ben Oliel had arrived at the house.

"He has gone," said the Mahdi, pointing down; and then lifting his eyes towards heaven, he added, "TO THE KING!"

Notes:

1. Where spelling inconsistencies in the printed text appear to be unintentional, they have been made consistent in this Etext version, either by adopting the dictionary spelling or the spelling most frequently used in the printed text.

2. In the printed text, many representations of Arabic words use accented characters; in this Etext version, the accents have been removed to allow transmission by email using the 7-bit character set.

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