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The Innkeeper's Daughter
By Kathryn H. Kidd
|Edition: Trade Paperback|
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An Angry Morning
Deborah's mother was in a bad mood. Deborah couldn't remember when she had seen her mother so angry and upset.
Usually, Mother woke the whole family with singing, as she roused everyone from the bed they all shared to do the morning's work. On those days, her mood spread from one family member to another until everyone began the day with a smile. Deborah's big sister Leah and her little sister Ruth - and even their brother Isaac - would sing or hum while they put on their sandals and got ready to begin the day.
Deborah's father didn't hum, of course. He was the father, and he had to at least act serious so everyone would know he was important. But sometimes Deborah saw him tap out the beat of a song on his thigh as he watched to make sure that the children were doing their morning chores.
Today, though, there was no singing. By the dim lamplight, Deborah saw her mother's face twisted into a scowl.
"Get up!" Mother scolded while everyone else was still stretching and opening their eyes. "There's too much work for you to lie in bed like rich people."
She pulled Isaac off the wooden bed by his ankle, and he fell the few inches to the floor with a whump.
"That hurt!" he said, rubbing his bottom in pain and surprise. At Isaac's next birthday he would be thirteen years old. Then he would be a man, and Mother couldn't pull him off the bed even when she was in a bad mood. But at twelve, he was still a boy. And today, no one was safe from Mother's anger.
"Then you should have gotten up when I told you to," Mother said. "You have work to do. Don't you hear the animals in the yard down below? They need to be milked and watered and fed."
"I know what to do." Now Isaac was grumpy, too. "I feed the animals every morning, don't I?" Hurriedly, he tied a girdle around the waist of his tunic, the robe that boys and girls and men and women all wore both day and night. Then he left the room before Mother could say anything else. Father scurried off behind Isaac, escaping the scene in the bedroom.
As soon as the men were gone, Mother turned her anger on the girls. "Ruth, pick your girdle off the floor!" Quickly, Ruth picked up the sash that had fallen on the floor and tied it around her waist without shaking the dirt off first.
Deborah saw her mother's face twist up in anger at Ruth. Quickly, she reached down and pulled the girdle off Ruth. She slapped it against her arm to remove the dirt from the floor. Then, tenderly, she tied it around the waist of Ruth's blue tunic.
Leaning down, Deborah saw Ruth's lower lip quiver as if she were about to cry. Ruth was only five; she was too young to know that crying would only make her mother angrier. Deborah made a face at Ruth and touched the little girl's nose with her fingertip. Ruth giggled, and the crisis was over.
But today, even helping Deborah's little sister wasn't good enough to make Mother happy. Before Deborah had even straightened up, Mother barked, "Are you going to take all day? I can't do any work until you get the water. Go! Now!"
Leah and Deborah hurried to obey their mother, stopping only to pick up an earthenware jug and the goatskin water bottle that was hanging from a peg in the kitchen wall. Deborah was old enough to remember the goat whose skin made the water bottle she was carrying. He was a black billy goat named Nubia who had been Deborah's pet until the day Father killed him for a feast day meal.
Now Deborah had a new pet goat, but she still remembered how Father had peeled off Nubia's skin in one piece and made it into a watertight bottle. Today Deborah chose the goatskin bottle because it was lighter and easier to carry than the heavy earthenware jug that Leah balanced on her head.
Leah was thirteen years old, so she would be married within a year or two. Then Deborah would learn how to balance the earthenware jug on her own head or carry it on her hip. By then, Ruth would be old enough to carry the goatskin bottle when Deborah went to the well to get water at morning and at night.
Even though Deborah hated carrying the heavy skin of water upstairs to her family's house, she was luckier than most girls her age. Most girls had to go to the town well and wait in line until everyone else ahead of them was finished filling their jugs and skins with water. Then they had to carry the heavy water home through the narrow streets of Bethlehem. Often they had to make the long trip to the well twice a day or even three times a day.
But Deborah's father was Bethlehem's innkeeper, and Deborah and her family lived in the inn. Deborah's family and the inn's guests lived upstairs, above a courtyard where all the animals were kept. Because the animals had to be fed and watered, the inn had its own well. Deborah and Leah only had to walk down the stairs to fill their jugs and skins with water. Then they had to carry the water up the stairs again.
As soon as Leah and Deborah were out of their mother's sight, Leah breathed a sigh of relief.
"Mother is being horrible today," she said to Deborah, "and I'm afraid things are only going to get worse."
"Do all women get like this when they're expecting a baby?" Deborah asked.
Leah only shook her head. "I don't think the baby is the problem," she said. "Mother has been expecting a baby for months and months, and she's never acted like this before."
Deborah nodded solemnly. Mother had never been as cross as she was today. "If it's not the baby, then, what's wrong?" she asked, shifting the goatskin bottle from one hand to the other.
"It's the Census. The Census has everyone upset. Haven't you noticed?"
Now that she thought about it, Deborah realized that everyone had been nervous and edgy lately. "I don't even know what the Census is," she said, "but if it makes everyone so mad all the time, I don't think we should have one."
"We don't have a choice," Leah said. "The Romans have ordered us to count everyone who lives in the country. That's what a Census is - when everyone is counted and their names are written down."
"Why do the Romans want that?" Deborah asked, shaking her head. The Romans were always making extra work for people. Nobody liked the Romans.
"It's because of money and taxes," Leah said. "If a person can prove what city he was born in, he'll only have to pay half the taxes that he would otherwise."
Deborah and Leah walked through the courtyard to the well. They had to watch every step, because there were animals everywhere. There were also people sleeping in blankets on the hard ground, right next to their animals. It was still dark, and most of the people and their animals were still asleep.
When she and Leah got to the well, they sat on the edge and rested for a moment. Finally Deborah said, "If people will pay less tax after a Census, why does the Census make everyone so upset?"
"I think I'd rather pay more tax money and not have the Romans know my name and where I lived," Leah said. "Nothing good ever came from the Romans."
Deborah nodded her head in agreement, but she didn't know much about the Romans. All she knew was that Father said they were bad people. Whatever Father said, Deborah believed.
"There are other reasons people don't like the Census," Leah continued. "I think the main one is that important people can be counted wherever they live. People that the Romans don't like - and that includes us Jews - have to travel to the city where they were born to be counted. Sometimes they have to travel for days and days before they get there."
"I think traveling would be fun," Deborah said.
Leah only shook her head. "That's because you've never done it. Once you get away from the city, the roads are so bad that it's easy to get lost. And the girls have to walk everywhere, too. Only the boys and men get to ride."
"That's not fair!" Deborah said.
"Maybe it isn't fair, but that's the way things have always been done," Leah said. "If there's only one donkey in a family, the husband rides it. If there are two donkeys, the oldest son rides the second one."
"Then I'll just have to marry a rich man," Deborah said stubbornly. "I won't get married unless my husband has enough money to buy a donkey for everyone in the family."
Leah laughed, but she shook her head at the same time. "Walking isn't even the worst thing about traveling," she said.
"There are worse things?" Deborah asked. Suddenly, traveling didn't seem as fun as she had thought it would be.
"There are bears and lions that can kill you if you're not careful. And at night, you can be robbed and murdered right in the inn where you're staying."
That made Deborah angry. "No one was ever robbed or killed at our inn," she said hotly.
"That's because Father is careful about who he lets stay with us. Even so - whenever we have guests, Father sleeps with one eye open."
"I guess that's true," Deborah agreed. "But you haven't explained why Mother is so upset. We were born right in Bethlehem, so we don't have to travel anywhere. And since we have more guests now, we're making lots of money."
"We have too many guests," Leah said. "The guestrooms are filled. In all my life, I've never seen people sleeping here in the courtyard, with the animals. Look at them!" she said, shaking her head in amazement. "They're all curled up on the ground with the camels and the goats."
Deborah nodded solemnly. The people were all crowded together with their animals like Noah's family on the Ark. Deborah was glad she had made it through the courtyard without stepping on a hand or a foot.
"Mother has to make sure all those people are fed, and all their animals are fed and cared for," Leah continued. "And she always has to worry about robbers. This isn't a good time for her, Deborah. The best thing we can do is help her when she needs it and stay out of her way the rest of the time. Look! The sun's coming up. It's going to be a beautiful day."
Deborah looked up toward the hills surrounding the Bethlehem walls. She saw a shepherd herding the sheep down toward the city gate, and she wondered if that shepherd was Andrew. Andrew was Isaac's best friend, so Deborah knew him well. In fact, Deborah had a secret about Andrew. Even though he was only a slave, she knew that she wanted to marry him when he earned his freedom and went home to the village of Cana.
Copyright © 1990 by Kathryn H. Kidd