Hiram raced to the courtyard, Micah at his heels. The sight that greeted him brought him up short, puffing and wheezing. For a minute he could only stare.
A Samaritan—a Samaritan—stood here in his inn! And not only that, Micah was right; he had what appeared to be a dead man across his donkey. The crowd in the courtyard was glaring, and things were looking ugly. Hiram surged forward. “What is the meaning of this?” he demanded.
The Samaritan bowed respectfully. “Sir, I must apologize for intruding. But I have found one of your countrymen on the road, seriously injured. I have bound him up, but I cannot care for him properly. I thought perhaps you could take him in.”
“Take him in? What do you mean? I have a business to run!”
“You misunderstand, sir. I will pay you. I have here enough for two days.” The man held out two denarii. “If you need more than that, I will pay when I come back this way.”
Hiram just stared. His mouth was too full of questions to sort one out to ask. How did he know the man would ever come back? What was he supposed to do with a man so badly injured that he looked as if it was already too late? Who did this Samaritan think he was? Was he the one who had beaten the man? But then, why would he be doing this? Guilt? And why was he offering two whole days’ wages for two nights at an inn?
Before Hiram could speak, little Micah spoke up. “We can keep him, can’t we, Papa? He looks so sick! He can have my sleeping mat.”
Hiram avoided his son’s innocent eyes. “Listen here—”
A voice from behind startled him. “We will keep him. Bring him this way.”
Hiram whirled. It couldn’t be! Mother? She had followed him all the way out here? Mother didn’t walk much anymore, and never into the courtyard. And just who was master here, anyway? He opened his mouth, met his mother’s eyes, and shut it again.
Judith appeared with an empty tray. She must have been delivering food to the Syrian traders. She looked from her mother-in-law to her husband to the patient Samaritan. “Bring him this way,” she said, and turned toward their private quarters at the rear of the courtyard.
Hiram’s gaze swung back to the Samaritan. He had picked up the injured man, but he did Hiram the courtesy of raising his eyebrows questioningly. “You heard them,” grumbled Hiram. “Bring him this way.”
Hiram led the way toward his private family quarters at the back of the courtyard. The tall Samaritan bore the injured man as easily as if he were a child.
The priest and Levite who had arrived earlier and rented the best chamber blocked his path, the priest holding up an authoritative hand. “One moment, if you please. I should like to know why you have this dog of a Samaritan in your inn, not to mention this…body! I believe it is the same body we passed on the road. He will obviously die, and defile everything around him!”
As Hiram hesitated, the Samaritan said mildly, “Does not the Father of us all command us to provide help to those in need?”
The priest stiffened in outrage. “I did not address you! Clearly, this man has been judged by the Mighty One. It is not our business to interfere in His judgments, which are holy and true!”
Hiram didn’t know what to say. All his life he had held priests in awe and reverence. To his mind, they dwelt in some mysterious and unknowable place, somewhere above ordinary men. Did they not speak the thoughts of God?
Old Jemima, Hiram’s mother, pushed past the men without ceremony. “The Law commands that we remember that we were once outsiders and slaves, and treat our neighbors accordingly!” she declared. “While you stand and argue, the man is dying! This way, please, sir!”
She had used her Mother voice, and everyone instinctively jumped to obey. The priest and Levite hurriedly backed away to keep from coming into contact with the injured man or the Samaritan.
“Come to the kitchen,” ordered Jemima. “It will be warmer here, and easier to care for him. Micah, run and fetch some furs and pile them in the warmest corner. Judith, where is that old mantle? It will not matter if it gets bloodstained. What have you done for him so far, sir?” She addressed the Samaritan as if he were someone important.
“I have poured oil on his bruises, and wine on the open wounds, which I bound up as best I could. No doubt you will do better.” He laid his burden carefully on the hastily prepared bed and backed away. “Here is the money, Keeper. I have intruded long enough. I shall take my leave.”
“Can you stay to eat?” asked Jemima.
“Really, Mother!” whispered Judith.
The Samaritan’s face flushed. “I could not. I thank you.”
Ignoring the consternation of her family, Jemima quickly wrapped meat, cheese, bread, and fruit into a cloth and pressed it on him. She showed him out the back way, so he need not cross the courtyard again. Then she set all three girls to fetching herbs and tearing strips of cloth.
A young man appeared in the doorway. “What on earth is going on in here? You should hear what they’re saying in the courtyard!”
“Shem!” shouted several voices. “Where have you been?”
“Shem!” Hiram released some of his pent-up frustration by grabbing his brother’s shoulders and shaking him. “About time you decided to show up! This is a busy place, and we could use a little more help!”
Shem’s face darkened. “There are other things in life besides this dirty inn! Anyway, Father left it to you, not to me! And from the sound of things, you’re making quite enough of a mess of it without my help! What’s this about Samaritans and dead bodies? If I hadn’t used my famous charm out there, you’d have lost several paying customers, including a priest!”
“Take him away and tell him about it,” said Jemima. “You’re in the way!”
The two men left, and Hiram told the story to Shem. “It’s Mother!” he finished. “There’s no doing anything with her!”
Shem laughed. “Who is master in this house, anyway? Maybe this Samaritan is a follower of that teacher—you know, the one from Nazareth that we keep hearing about. I hear he thinks everybody should love everybody!” He made it into a sneer. “If he lived on this road he’d think differently!”
“Well, I prefer him to some of the ‘messiahs’ we’ve had,” said Hiram. “Remember the riots we had here when those zealots tried to convince everybody that we could overthrow Rome?”
“Trouble could happen again,” said Shem. “Listen, this is more serious than you think.” He stopped and looked around, then muttered, “Those ugly customers in the courtyard are the ones who beat this man up! There are some pretty dark looks going around out there. If he dies, you’re fine, just foolish. But if he comes to and recognizes them, we’re all in danger. You’ve got to get rid of this guy!”
Hiram stared at his brother. “How could you possibly know that?”
Shem’s eyes slid away from his. “Let’s just say I happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Only I managed to hide.”
As Hiram continued to stare, Shem added defensively, “What would you have me do, jump into the fray against a whole gang? I could be in there on the kitchen floor. Or dead! He shouldn’t have been traveling alone in the first place! Everybody knows what the Jerusalem-Jericho road is like! The point is, we’re all in trouble now. What are you going to do about it?”
Hiram rubbed his hands over his face. Why me? he thought wearily. He walked to the archway into the courtyard and looked out. There was no sign of the priest or the Levite. In one corner of the courtyard, the rabble that had come in that afternoon were clustered, muttering in an ominous way. As he watched, a man who appeared to be their leader turned and met his eyes. He stared for a minute, and Hiram stared back, frozen. Then the man smiled and bowed elaborately.
Hiram turned away. He felt cold all over.
To be continued…