“These people”- the keeper waved his hand to the throng before the door- “have all besought the town, and they report its accommodations all engaged.”
Again Joseph studied the ground, saying, half to himself, “She is so young! if I make her bed on the hill, the frosts will kill her.”
Then he spoke to the keeper again.
“It may be you knew her parents, Joachim and Anna, once of Bethlehem, and, like myself, of the line of David.”
“Yes, I knew them. They were good people. That was in my youth.”
This time the keeper’s eyes sought the ground in thought. Suddenly he raised his head.
“If I cannot make room for you,” he said, “I cannot turn you away. Rabbi, I will do the best I can for you. How many are of your party?”
Joseph reflected, then replied, “My wife and a friend with his family, from Beth-Dagon, a little town over by Joppa; in all, six of us.”
“Very well. You shall not lie out on the ridge. Bring your people and hasten; for, when the sun goes down behind the mountain, you know the night comes quickly, and it is nearly there now.”
“I give you the blessing of the houseless traveller; that of the sojourner will follow.”
So saying, the Nazarene went back joyfully to Mary and the Beth-Dagonite. In a little while the latter brought up his family, the women mounted on donkeys. The wife was matronly, the daughters were images of what she must have been in youth; and as they drew nigh the door, the keeper knew them to be of the humble class.
“This is she of whom I spoke,” said the Nazarene; “and these are our friends.”
Mary’s veil was raised.
“Blue eyes and hair of gold,” muttered the steward to himself, seeing but her. “So looked the young king when he went to sing before Saul.”
Then he took the leading-strap from Joseph and said to Mary, “Peace to you, O daughter of David!” Then to the others, “Peace to you all!” Then to Joseph, “Rabbi, follow me!”
The party were conducted into a wide passage paved with stone, from which they entered the court of the khan. To a stranger the scene would have been curious; but they noticed the lewens that yawned darkly upon them from all sides, and the court itself, only to remark how crowded they were. By a lane reserved in the stowage of the cargoes, and thence by a passage similar to the one at the entrance, they emerged into the enclosure adjoining the house, and came upon camels, horses, and donkeys, tethered and dozing in close groups; among them were the keepers, men of many lands; and they, too, slept or kept silent watch. They went down the slope of the crowded yard slowly, for the dull carriers of the women had wills of their own. At length they turned into a path running towards the grey limestone bluff overlooking the khan on the west.