By the time Bella arrived, Father Elijah had already heard the news about the fall of Beirut from others on the road, but he was astonished to think that Bella was not in the citadel. “Child, what were you thinking going out into the city in the midst of an assault?”
“We didn’t know it was an assault! We thought it was just a fire. I wanted to help,” Bella defended herself lamely. In retrospect, her behavior appeared utterly incomprehensible and stupid.
“Come in! Come in! Have you had anything to eat? I think you could do with some wine. Come!” He gestured again, and Bella gratefully followed him inside his modest dwelling. The floor was dirt, and there was no chimney as in most of the older, Arab houses, so the walls were darkened and the air raw. However, the bread he brought her was fresh, and the wine strong.
“I don’t know what to do, father,” she confessed as soon as he had settled down beside her at the table. “I must find out what has happened to my father and brothers. I can’t just hide here. My father left me in command of the citadel.” Bella had been thinking about this all the way to St. Maro. She understood that she was safer here, and she understood that her capture would break her father’s heart and his resistance both. Yet as the day wore on, she felt more and more like a deserter and a coward. Her father had left her in command. He had said he would defend Beirut, if it was rightfully his, and it was. The High Court had already determined that. This assault was illegal. It was an act of war. What was she doing hiding in a Maronite church?
“I’m sure your father’s primary concern is your safety, my lady.” Father Elijah assured her.
“Yes and no. Beirut is everything to him. He built it practically with his bare hands. He has made it what it is. He is Beirut. How dare I make him choose between Beirut and me? How dare I be so selfish as to put my safety ahead of all that is not only his life’s work, but my brothers’ inheritance? Do I have the right to impoverish my brothers for my personal well-being?”
“These are questions for your conscience, I think.” the old priest replied with a faint smile. “I would not presume to advise you. Come with me to hear Mass and confer with Our Lord.”
Bella nodded readily and followed him into the ancient church. She went down on her knees and bent her head on her folded hands. “Dear God, help me! Show me what I am to do.”
But the skies did not open to reveal choirs of angels. No voice spoke to her from the dome. No writing appeared on the walls. All she heard was the familiar melody of Mass.
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