The Light of Truth

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Chapter 11

CHAPTER 11

After the Feast of Tabernacles; Damaris’ family home

“Just think of it, Timon! No more working in the marketplace selling ordinary grade parchment to common men.”

“Damaris, the men are not wealthy, but we should not call them common.”

Resting her hand protectively over her stomach, Damaris said, “You have often said that they are rude.”

“I do not think I would have said ‘rude’.” Timon’s eyes followed her hand, and he smiled. He was going to be a father; the child would be the fourth generation living. This proposal from his father-in-law would not only rescue him from the work he did not like, but would provide a better future for the family.

Damaris moved closer. “It is an excellent opportunity.”

“I do not know what my father will think.”

“By the time we return to Ephesus, he will be home and back running his own market-stall.”

“He will expect me to help him there, as usual.”

This was exactly what Damaris hoped to prevent happening. She knew he did not like working in the market with his father.

“We should have asked my Saba his opinion before he went back home.”

“The arrangements were not finalized then; they are now.”

“To be honest Damaris, I was concerned about sending my Saba home with the other elderly men. I hoped he would not think me disrespectful.”

“Timon, he was happy to go with them. The rabbi arranged comfortable transport for them. Besides, my parents did offer to have him here. If he had accepted, he could have gone back with us.”

“He wanted to go home,” Timon admitted, looking around the atrium where they had gone to talk privately about her father’s offer.

“Then stop feeling guilty and let us work out what you will say to my father.”

“I know what you want me to tell him.”

“Even I am not so foolish as to pressure you into agreeing to something that you will later hate me for.”

“I will never hate you, Damaris.”

“Nevertheless, you must make your own decision.”

“Then let us talk about it. I need to understand fully, so I can present this to my family. Not only my father, but my grandfather also.”

“My parents are elderly. I am their only child. What my father has offered will make you his heir.”

“Unless our child is a boy.”

“No, you will inherit first.”

“I can imagine my father asking why your father, being old, would want to buy this business anyway.”

“My father told you that he bought it for a good price from his cousin. What he did not say was why.”

“Does it matter?”

“Perhaps it will to you.”

“Will he not mind that you tell me?”

“It is no secret, not for family, but he did not want to embarrass his cousin in front of us.”

“Then tell me why your elderly father has bought a shipping fleet.”

“There are only four ships, trading ships.”

“And that is the reason your father bought them from his cousin?” Timon smiled.

“No.” Damaris smiled back. “My father’s cousin has two sons. Two sons who have bickered for many years about which of them should inherit the ships.”

“As there are two sons, and four ships, why not two ships each?”

“The older son would go to law about it, if that were the decision. He would claim ‘firstborn rights.’”

“And the younger?”

“He is the one who has done all the work with the ships. He has hired crews, arranged cargoes, ordered replacement sails, oars, and everything else to do with the fleet… which used to be larger.”

“I see.”

“Timon, you have no brothers to fight you for your inheritance, I do not think you could understand.”

“At the present, according to law, if my father has died on this trip, what I would inherit is the stall in the market-place and whatever supplies he has bought for it.”

“But your grandfather’s shop?”

“Remember my journeys to Egypt? I have an uncle there and cousins. Three male cousins, as well as two female ones.”

“But your father is your grandfather’s heir...”

“My uncle in Egypt is the older son.”

“Oh.”

“So, if your parents arranged the match because they thought I would be a wealthy business owner one day, you might be disappointed.”

“My parents would have looked into these matters. They arranged the match because I am their only child, and I insisted. They... well, I might as well tell you. They do not like your father.”

“There are times I do not either, but I have to honor him.”

“Then surely this will make it easier.”

“I cannot see how. I am his only son. He dislikes the fact that my sister Rachel works in the shop, packing the orders and doing the accounts. He would not want her to inherit his stall… and I cannot bear to think of his reaction to this news.”

“Has it not occurred to you that with this fleet of ships, both your father and grandfather can bring their own parchment from Egypt?”

“The arrangement would be with your parents, not me.”

“No, Timon. My father does not want the responsibility of running even a small fleet of ships. His plan is that you learn from his cousin, and when you are ready, take over.”

“But what about the sons, who already argue about this?”

“This is why the cousin has sold them to my father. He will divide the money from the sale of the ships, in accordance with the law, and will give them each their portion.”

Timon thought for a few moments while Damaris watched anxiously. She knew that her parents had done this to help her, not her father’s cousin. They did not want her to be subject to Meshua and perhaps have to move into his home.

“You said that your father’s cousin gave him a good price. Does this mean the sons will be angry, perhaps cause trouble for me... for whoever is in charge of the fleet?”

“The older son will travel to Britannia, in the Roman province of Gaul, to the gold mines of Dolaucothi.”

At her husband’s puzzled look, Damaris explained, “My father’s cousin told him that this son has a ‘friend’ who serves in the Roman legion there. He told him about the gold there.”

Frowning, Timon turned his back toward his wife. Did she know what she was implying? That this relative was what the Romans called a ‘Pusio.’

Damaris stepped forward and touched her husband’s arm, “Timon, he will be leaving as soon as he receives the money and can arrange his journey. He will travel overland most of the way, there is no need for you to be concerned that he will cause trouble with the ships.”

Timon turned and caught his wife to him in a gentle hug. He should have known better than to doubt her. She was kindly, pure, and innocent.

“If you wanted to hire him, it is possible the younger brother would be willing...”

“These matters I will discuss with your father. For now, I need to decide if I want ships or parchment.”

“What you need to decide is how best to provide for your family in the future,” Abner said as he walked into the atrium.

“Abba!” Damaris exclaimed.

“Sir!” Timon said, stepping away from his wife. “I did not hear you coming.”

“I have no wish to intrude. I think it very commendable that you discuss with your wife what you should do. Not all men would.”

Timon acknowledged the courtesy. “The happiness and comfort of my wife is important to me.”

“I am pleased to hear it son-in-law. And as she is carrying a child,” Abner stopped when he saw his son-in-law’s face color, and waved his hand as though to wipe it away. “It might not be a usual subject for men to talk about, but we are family, and Damaris is our only child, so I advise you to look to the future. As well as seeing to the happiness and comfort of my daughter, you need to thoughtfully consider the best way to support her, and future children.”

“Father-in-law, I have no understanding of shipping, except for the little contact I have when my uncle sends parchment and I have to arrange for it to be collected from the port. I would appreciate being able to talk with you about what would be required before making a final judgement.”

“A wise decision,” Abner smiled. “Now Damaris, off and see your mother, she wants to talk women’s talk with you.”

Damaris smiled and left the two men she loved together, happy with the way things seemed to be going. Although she knew better than to disrespect him, she did not like her father-in-law. Truthfully, she did not trust Meshua ben Simon, believing he would always do what suited his own purposes. She knew her father felt the same. It had been hard to convince him to arrange her marriage to the son of Meshua.

“Now, Timon, let us sit and talk.”

As they made their way to the marble benches, Timon’s mind was working furiously.

“What is your biggest fear about telling your father?”

At Timon’s startled look, Abner explained, “I know your family position. I also have heard much about your father. He is an able business man, but not... not well-liked in our Jewish community. My own opinion is that he is too, well… too fond of his own way. I do not mean to hurt you, Timon, but we must have honesty between us if we are to be in business together.”

“The commandments say to honor father and mother, and I endeavor to do that... and I would not say it to anyone outside the family, but I believe you have summed him up accurately.”

“So talk to me about your concerns.”

“There are many. The first is that my grandfather was telling me about my sister Rachel working in the shop.”

“Not where the customers will see her, surely?”

“Before he left for the Feast, she did. He was in too much pain to walk. It was the last day the shop would be open till after his return. I was working at my father’s stall in the marketplace because I knew he would be angry if I closed it and went to Saba’s shop. Rachel served the customers.”

“So, are you saying your grandfather wanted you to approve of that practice?”

“No. He said that he had to argue with my mother to allow it, and he had his couch pulled into the doorway to the shop so he could watch over her.”

“Why not close the shop a day early?”

“The shipment of parchment had been delayed, and the previous one was lost when the ship sunk. There were many orders that needed to be filled. My mother wanted him to close the shop, but he refused.”

“He sounds as stubborn as your father.”

“He can be very stubborn, but in this instance his concern was that he meet the orders of customers who rely on him. He told me that a problem that day was that others had heard about the shop closing for our festival, and it was busy all day. And there was something else, something that concerned him, although he would not admit it to my mother or sisters.”

“I am almost afraid to ask.”

“The rabbi’s assistant Jonadab, accused my sister of... unseemly behavior.”

Abner frowned. He did not know the mother and sister well, but thought it unlikely that his son-in-law’s unmarried sister would be unseemly. “What did she do to bring this charge against her?”

“My Saba said that she was showing a customer how to separate a scroll into sheets.”

“That does not seem so bad.”

“Jonadab had been served, left, and returned to find the customer alone with Rachel bent over a scroll on the table.”

“Your grandfather was watching still?”

“Yes. He saw nothing to be concerned about. The man my sister was helping is a regular customer...”

“So why did the rabbi’s assistant accuse her?”

“He did not know that my grandfather was watching all that was happening in the shop.” Timon sighed, “And, the customer was one of those heretics.”

“Jonadab and your father have similar strong views on them.”

“Yes. The rabbi will call on my father when he returns.”

Abner raised his eyebrows as he looked at his son-in-law. From all he had discovered about Meshua ben Simon, he would take this as a grave insult to his name.

Timon saw his father-in-law’s expression, and added, “So, anticipating a problem when my father comes back, my Saba suggested I come and work in the shop. That way Rachel need not be put in such a position again.”

Abner cupped his chin in his hand as he thought. The sister was old to still be unmarried, but he would not inquire about this. “You said that you had taken on a helper at your father’s market stall.”

“I had no choice. When it is busy, there is too much for one person to do. That is why I usually help there.”

“I don’t think your father can object to you hiring an assistant.”

“No, the young man, Malachi, is a very capable helper. Whatever I ask him to do, he does willingly.”

“Then might it not be possible that he could work in your grandfather’s shop and your father train another helper for his stall?”

“The young man is not Jewish. He did not attend the Feast of Tabernacles with us.”

“Do you think that would matter to your father? Surely not all his customers are Jewish.”

“The customers at the stall are mostly pagan, or Roman. Some are sellers in the market, some have no beliefs.”

“And your grandfather’s customers?”

“Jewish, Greek, Roman, pagans... and the leader of the heretic sect or his great-grandson.”

“And the great-grandson, ah… he was the one that caused Jonadab to accuse your sister of behavior unfitting a Jewish girl?”

“Yes.”

“So this young man you hired, the one with the Jewish name... is there something you are not saying?”

“I suspect he is one of those heretics.”

“Christians, I hear them being called.”

Startled, Timon stared at his father-in-law.

“Yes, I know of them. I do business with some. My experience of them is that they are honest men.”

With a deep sigh, Timon looked down at his feet. He did not want his eyes to betray his thoughts. He chewed his bottom lip while he thought. ‘Why is my father not as charitable in his attitude as Damaris’ father?’

“Your grandfather, how does he deal with his Christian customers?”

“From some of the tales he has told, he seems to enjoy teasing the old man, the leader of the group here.”

“Ah, that would be John, he who is the last of that Man’s disciples who is still alive.”

Timon wondered how to respond.

“No, I am not a follower of the Man. I keep the traditions of our fathers, but I make it my business to know what is going on. And when it comes to choosing reliable men to work for me, for us, those believers are to be preferred over pagans, who will rob their employers without conscience. Whatever we think of those Christians, or whatever we call them, they too live by the commandments of God.”

After some thought, Timon finally said, “I have never heard them described like this before.”

“No, most Jewish men would not agree. But in the years I conducted my business importing and exporting goods, this was my experience.”

“Malachi is my first experience of dealing with people of that faith, if that is what he is.”

“And has it been a good experience? You said he was capable.”

“Yes, father-in-law. It has been good. He is capable, and seems to be trustworthy also.”

“So would a solution not be to speak to your grandfather about this young man, say nothing about what you suspect, and leave your grandfather to choose?”

“I do not think my father would like...”

“I believe the shop is owned by your grandfather.”

Timon nodded.

“Is your grandfather intimidated by your father, or would he choose to run his own shop the way he wants?”

“My Saba can be very forceful when he decides what he wants. The combined arguments of my mother and sisters would not deter him in keeping the shop open that last day before he left for the Feast of Tabernacles.”

“And you Timon? Did you object?’

“I said that our father would not like it.”

“But you did not help?” Abner was trying to make a judgment on how his son-in-law would handle dealing with the men he would meet in the world of shipping.

“I had to decide what my father would want. In view of the fact that he sent his messages to the stall in the marketplace, rather than to my grandfather, it seemed wise to keep his stall open. I helped my sisters prepare some of the orders the night before and cut some of the parchment for them. When I left, I did not know if my Saba would be able to run his own shop the next day, or whether he would listen to the objections of my mother and close it.”

“I am glad to see you thought it through. You would need to be able to do that if you accept the offer to run the shipping business with me.”

“One of the difficulties I have in giving you an answer is that I know little about shipping.”

“Neither do I, but I understand trading. So, I think, do you.”

“I understand costing goods, although my father or grandfather set the prices. But I know how to work out how to make a profit while still charging a fair price.”

“I can ask my nephew, the one who has been running the business, to stay on and help me when I take over next week.”

“Damaris said you did not want to be involved in the running of the business.”

“I do not, but I will always check on my investments, and this small fleet is an investment. My cousin would have taught you what you need to know, but I will learn instead and ask my nephew to help until you are ready to take my place. This way you can help your grandfather until he is satisfied with this young man, Malachi, or finds someone else. Will that help you decide?”

“Yes, father-in-law. I would very much like to work with you in shipping. I can see many benefits for my family, here in Ephesus, and for my uncle and cousins in Egypt from where we import the most of our supplies. My concern was how I could leave the family business, in peace. You have answered that. And I appreciate that I can have a few weeks if necessary, to make it easier for my father and grandfather.”

Abner studied him. Meshua ben Simon did not deserve such a loyal son. Then he upbraided himself. He should not be thinking this way. Besides, that loyalty would broaden. It already had, to his wife. In the matter of the Feast of Tabernacles attendance, Timon had chosen to disappoint his mother and put his wife’s wish to be with her family first.

“So my answer is yes, father-in-law,” Timon said cheerfully.

“Then let us go tell our wives. I believe this decision will make them very joyful.”

*****

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