Rachel and Elizabeth return to ‘Old Simon’s’ shop
After they had managed to stable the donkey and put the cart away, Elizabeth and Rachel looked at each other, exhausted.
“Aima, rather than walk the two streets to reach the house door, let’s use the rear access to the shop and go into our home that way.”
Elizabeth nodded, Rachel retrieved the key, opened the door, then replaced the key and followed her mother into the shop. They did not expect to find a furious Meshua in the shop.
“A man should be master in his own home!” shouted Meshua, hurrying toward them and waving his fist in Elizabeth’s face as she and her daughter came in the back entrance.
Rachel had never seen her father so angry in all her life and wondered how much anger he would have if he knew what her mother and she had done at the Feast.
“Where have you been?”
“To have this liniment made for your father,” Elizabeth stressed ‘your’, and held out the jar.
“Where did you go?”
“To my sister Sara’s healing woman. You have met Rhea.”
“So why enter our home through this access to the shop?” Meshua was barely controlling his temper.
“Because we had to take the donkey and cart. We could not have traveled the distance there and back in a day otherwise. We finished stabling the donkey and it was closer to come in this entrance.”
“Did you put the key back in the hiding place?” Meshua snapped at Rachel.
“Yes, Abba,” Rachel replied, locking it again with the key kept inside.
“I have been using the liniment that Rhea made for me, to soothe your father’s feet. But there was little left. I used the last of it this morning. That is why we had to leave so early this morning, to ask Rhea make some more, and wait for it to be ready. You were already gone.”
“Abba,” Timon came out of the storeroom and tried to calm his father. “They did a good thing. I know how much pain Saba has been in.”
“And this liniment has been helping him move about again,” Elizabeth added.
All the time he had been traveling, Meshua had been planning how he could take over the shop. He felt he was too old to continue working in the marketplace in all weathers. He had not foreseen that his father might improve. In fact, he had rather hoped the opposite.
Softly, Rachel said, “It is helping him, Abba.”
“You are trying to distract me, it will not work. I know what I found wrong in here!” he shouted, gesturing to the storeroom.
“Rachel, take this liniment through to the house. I do not want the jar to be broken,” Elizabeth said, passing the jar to her daughter.
“And come back immediately. You have questions to answer!”
Hurrying to do as she was told, Rachel put the jar on a shelf in the house. A quick look around told her that Saba must be in his room. She went back into the shop, many questions fighting for attention in her mind, but she did not dare ask any of them. Why was her father in the shop storeroom? Why was Timon with him? Her brother could not have told him that he was leaving to take over running a small fleet of ships. Had Timon changed his mind? Almost too tired to think, she went back into the shop.
“Now, come and explain this!” Meshua threw the account book on the table his father used.
“Is there some mistake?” she asked tremulously.
“I left that young man Timon hired to finish up for the day at the stall. I brought Timon here to assist me. I wanted to help my father.” It was not true, but he could not admit to anyone, least of all his family, that he was impatient to take over the shop. “So, explain this, Rachel!”
Seeing how intimidated her daughter was, Elizabeth felt her anger rise and she opened her mouth to speak...
“Keep your tongue in your mouth, woman. Rachel is the one who has worked in here. I am asking her to explain.”
“What do you want me to explain, Abba?”
“The shortage! I know exactly how much parchment I brought back for Abba. I wanted Timon to help me make up orders. You are not to work in here anymore, Abba is not well enough.” He fired his comments at her like arrows.
Rachel peeped at her brother.
“This is the problem,” Timon said, passing her an account from the book. It was the one that had been made up the previous night.
“It is an account for one of Saba’s regular customers,” Rachel said with barely a glance at the record.
“Why is it that an order for him was made up immediately, before any of the important orders have been filled?” Then as an afterthought, Meshua asked, “When was it done? If you and your mother went out early, it could only have been done last night after I went to bed.”
“No, Abba. I did what Saba told me to do.”
“But you did not wait for my permission.”
Smothering a sigh, Rachel said, “No, Abba.” She dare not remind him that she had never before needed his approval after her grandfather had given her instructions.
“You admit it!” He threw up his hands in an exaggerated demonstration of his feelings. “What has been happening in my absence? You came in here last night and made up an order for that, that... heretic!”
“I helped Saba make it up.”
“I do not believe you!”
Elizabeth stepped forward, “She is telling the truth. Your father asked her to come in here and help him last night after you went to bed.”
“I do not believe you! My father could not walk that far. I saw him when I came home. He could barely hobble to his chamber.”
“That was because he needed his feet rubbed with the liniment, and he probably needed the medicine from our healing woman.”
“Timon, go back and continue with the orders. I will deal with this.”
Keeping her eyes lowered, she said quietly, “I came and helped Saba make up an order.”
“Then where is it? I will ‘un-order’ it!” He reached and took the account and was about to tear it up, when Rachel said, “It is Saba’s writing, not mine.”
Glancing at it, he saw she spoke the truth, and threw the account to the floor. “Then I will repeat, where is the order?”
“It has been delivered.”
Elizabeth stepped in front of her daughter. “On your father’s instructions, we delivered the order to the man’s house, on our way back from Rhea’s home.”
Meshua did not notice the slip. ‘Rhea’s home,’ not ‘Sara’s home.’ Rachel did, and she trembled. What would happen if he found out that Rhea had become a member of the group he hated so much?
“You delivered an order to that heretic! You gave him priority over the rabbi’s order!” He raised his hand to strike her.
Elizabeth stood her ground against her husband’s anger. Her first thought was that his wrath was unreasonable, and second she would do what she could to protect her daughter.
Timon came out of the storeroom, stepped forward, and caught his father’s arm. “No, Abba.”
They all stared. Would Meshua actually have struck his wife?
“Rachel!” ‘Old Simon’ called through from the house to the shop where they all stood, transfixed by Meshua’s rage.
“Yes, Saba,” Rachel replied. Released from the thrall of her father’s anger, she went through the door into the house where her grandfather sat on his couch nursing his sore feet and legs. “You were not here when I bought the liniment in.”
“The medicine made me sleepy, I went and laid down for a little.”
“We brought the liniment...”
With a dismissive wave, ‘Old Simon’ said, “Later. Now, go back and tell my son I would like to see him.”
“Yes, Saba,” Rachel said, and turning, hurried back to the shop. Standing a safe distance away, she said, “Abba, Saba said he would like to see you.”
They all waited, aware of the struggle Meshua was having within himself to calm down and answer his father’s summons. Finally he responded, “You two,” he said addressing his wife and Rachel, “wait here and help Timon with the orders and the accounts.” Then he marched out of the shop and into the family home.
“Close the door, Meshua,” his father instructed, and raised his feet carefully onto his couch.
Still angry, Meshua complied. Walking over to where his father rested on his couch, he stood looking down at him, wondering how much longer the old man would live. The way the swelling in his feet had now moved to his legs showed his disease was spreading. His lips had often been tinged with blue and he easily became breathless. But, he saw what he wanted to see, recalling what he had been watching before he left on the buying trip.
Fixing his son with a confronting stare, ‘Old Simon’ demanded, “Now why were you shouting at your family in my shop?”
Meshua did not miss the emphasis that it was his father’s shop. “Timon and I have been sorting out the supplies I brought back from the long trip in search of stock for...” he paused briefly then continued, “your shop, Abba.”
“And you found out that I had taken some of the parchment for a regular order of mine.”
“I discovered we were short. I knew exactly how much stock I had brought back.”
“Stock which I paid you for,” ‘Old Simon’ reminded him.
“Yes, yes, I know. But you aren’t fit to work in the shop anymore, so I was helping Timon making up the orders from the regular customer list.”
Struggling to his feet, ‘Old Simon’ said, “We are going round in circles here, Meshua. We will discuss my fitness and my shop later. Now, why did you start yelling at your wife and daughter when they returned with the liniment for me, and from delivering the order I told them to make on their way home?”
Meshua was so incensed, he did not hear all his father said. “I didn’t start ‘yelling’ until I found out what they had done. Abba, they took a basket of supplies to the heretic, John.”
“I sent them with it. I just told you, they were to deliver it on the way back from having some liniment made up for me.” ‘Old Simon’ said again, quietly.
Staring defiantly at his father, Meshua replied, “You know how I feel about that group, and the old man.”
“And that man is one of my good customers. He always pays his account; he and his great-grandson are always polite.” He could have told his son the man he was so hostile toward had prayed for his younger daughter and she had been healed, but chose not to. Although nothing was agreed between them, no one who had seen what happened the day John had prayed for the child, dared mention to Meshua about young Esther’s healing.
“Just the same,” Meshua blustered looking for a reply. Finding it, he said, “We have other good customers and now we will be short of supplies because you sent a large amount to that heretic. I read the account. I saw how much was in that order.”
“How do you know we will be short? This is not your shop. You do not know how much we sell.”
“I can read the order book.”
“Meshua, do you sell to pagans in the market, or only our people?”
“I sell to whoever comes to buy.”
“So why this reaction of yours to one man... a man who is one of my regular customers?” ‘Old Simon emphasized ‘my.’
“He writes letters to all his groups of heretics around the provinces. He was born a Jew, but he encourages people to believe in this Yeshua when we all know who he was.”
“What if John is telling the truth?” his father asked quietly.
Grasping the neck of his robe ready to tear it, Meshua bellowed, “Not you, Abba! Surely you don’t believe those lies!”
“I did not say that I did, I asked you a question.”
Sighing and letting go of his robe, Meshua cajoled ‘Abba, you are an old man. You are sick. Maybe your mind is affected by the pain. I will take over running the business. I thought about it a lot while I was traveling. You can stay here and Elizabeth will look after you as she has before.”
Struggling to stand, ‘Old Simon’ stared at his son with a piercing look, “So, you will graciously allow me to live in my own home?”
Meshua stepped back and gulped.
Then with controlled anger, ‘Old Simon’ said coldly, “This is my home. You and your family have been living with me all these years. Perhaps you have forgotten that. The business is mine, and if it comes to that... your stall in the marketplace was started with my money. You never repaid that, so according to law, it is mine also. ” Raising his hand to stop his son’s response, ‘Old Simon’ continued, “You managed it well and you put the money back into expanding it. I had no problem with that. But if you think you can tell me who I can and cannot sell the parchment to, parchment which I normally buy from my other son, then you are wrong. As for your behavior in the shop just now, yelling at your family... perhaps you can see why I do not want you managing my shop, ruining my trade.”
“There were no customers...”
“No, nor would there have been. Your voice would have been heard along the street leading to the shop door; it woke me. Now sit down. We have some things to work out. If you are not satisfied with the way my business affairs are here, and will continue to be, then it might be time for you to buy a home of your own.”
As Meshua seated himself, he cast around in his mind for a response.
His father slumped back down onto his couch, clearly in pain.
Seeing an opportunity, Meshua asked, “How can you talk of me buying a house, you are not well enough to tend to yourself. You need Elizabeth and our girls.”
“I am a rich man, Meshua, as I am sure you know since you inspect the accounts Rachel keeps for the shop. I can hire someone to come and live here and look after me.”
Before he could stop himself, Meshua snapped angrily, “I have right of inheritance. All this will be mine anyway.”
“Simon is my older son. Had you forgotten?”
“He wouldn’t want to come back here,” Meshua said pompously. “He has a flourishing business in Egypt.”
“He also has three sons,” warned 'Old Simon.' “One of whom is coming to stay with us when the seas are safe again. Now are we going to talk this over or continue to argue?”
Meshua had taken it for granted that he would inherit everything. He assumed that his brother was content in Egypt with his wife and family. They had not seen each other since Simon had left in anger when... well when he had ‘stolen’ Elizabeth from him. An agent had handled the dealings with his brother until Timon was old enough to make the trip each year. Then he took over the journeys to Egypt.
But now, Meshua wondered, ‘should I have talked with my father about all this?’ One of his brother’s sons, his nephew, he realized, was married but, unless they had married in the last year or so, two of his brother’s other sons were of marriageable age. A few years back his father had suggested that it would be expedient for a match between one of the remaining sons and Rachel. Nothing more had been said, and he surmised his brother had not approved.
He had also forgotten the arrangement made between his father and brother, that Judah, one of those nephews, would come to learn the selling part of the business. It dawned on him that they were grandsons as much as Timon was. Meshua realized that perhaps he had been foolish to take it for granted that he would inherit.
“We will talk this over, Abba.”