If this were so in Jerusalem and elsewhere, certainly one of the sacred line might reasonably rely upon it at the door of the khan of Bethlehem. To say, as Joseph said, “This is the house of my fathers,” was to say the truth most simply and literally; for it was the very house Ruth ruled as the wife of Boaz; the very house in which Jesse and his ten sons, David the youngest, were born; the very house in which Samuel came seeking a king, and found him; the very house which David gave to the son of Barzillai, the friendly Gileadite; the very house in which Jeremiah, by prayer, rescued the remnant of his race flying before the Babylonians.
The appeal was not without effect. The keeper of the gate slid down from the cedar block, and, laying his hand upon his beard, said, respectfully, “Rabbi, I cannot tell you when this door first opened in welcome to the traveller, but it was more than a thousand years ago; and in all that time there is no known instance of a good man turned away, save when there was no room to rest him in. If it has been so with the stranger, just cause must the steward have who says no to one of the line of David. Wherefore, I salute you again; and, if you care to go with me, I will show you that there is not a lodging-place left in the house; neither in the chambers, nor in the lewens, nor in the court- not even on the roof. May I ask when you came?”
The keeper smiled.
“‘The stranger that dwelleth with you shall be as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself.’ Is not that the law, Rabbi?”
Joseph was silent.
“If it be the law, can I say to one a long time come, ‘Go thy way; another is here to take thy place’?”
Yet Joseph held his peace.
“And, if I said so, to whom would the place belong? See the many that have been waiting, some of them since noon.”
“Who are all these people?” asked Joseph, turning to the crowd. “And why are they here at this time?”
“That which doubtless brought you, Rabbi- the decree of the Caesar”- the keeper threw an interrogative glance at the Nazarene, then continued- “brought most of those who have lodging in the house. And yesterday the caravan passing from Damascus to Arabia and Lower Egypt arrived. These you see here belong to it- men and camels.”
Still Joseph persisted.
“The court is large,” he said.
“Yes, but it is heaped with cargoes- with bales of silk, and pockets of spices, and goods of every kind.”
Then for a moment the face of the applicant lost its stolidity; the lustreless, staring eyes dropped. With some warmth he next said, “I do not care for myself, but I have with me my wife, and the night is cold- colder on these heights than in Nazareth. She cannot live in the open air. Is there not room in the town?”