Fortunately, they were hungry—or James might have spent half an hour instead of three minutes making wisecracks about Lord and Lady Roth and the way they bid fair to make pikers out of any European aristocrats barring maybe the odd emperor here and there. He didn't even make one wisecrack about the food being kosher.
Of course, he might not have noticed anyway. But Melissa did, and after the meal was over she gave Morris a little smile.
“I see even you can bend a little. Smart move, if you ask me.”
Morris was back to being defensive. “I didn't eat pork in the old days, even if I never had any use for most of those silly kashrut rules. Here . . . ”
His wife gave him a mildly exasperated look. “To start with,” she said, “we didn't really have any choice. Things are changing in Prague, but there's still no chance of Jews, even very rich ones, getting Christian servants. And even if you could, you couldn't trust them not to be spies working for somebody else. So all the servants in the house, including the cooks, are Jewish—and the only way they know how to cook is kosher.”
She shrugged. “So, I persuaded Morris that it just made sense to make a virtue out of the business. You know how Jews are, Melissa, even if”—she gave Nichols a skeptical glance—“James is probably awash in goofy notions. Most of Prague's Jews, and certainly all of the rabbis, know that Morris' theological opinions are radically different from theirs. But Jews don't care much about theology, the way Christians do. They care a lot more about whether people maintain Jewish customs and traditions and rituals. And since we now do—”
“Not all of the customs,” said Morris, half-snarling. “I was born Reform, raised Reform, and I'll damn well die Reform. No way I'll ever start every day with a prayer thanking God for not making me a woman. Not to mention—”
“Husband, quit it,” snapped Judith. “We follow most of them, and you know it perfectly well. And you also know that between that and the fact that all of Bohemia's Jews depend on you to keep them in Wallenstein's good graces, everybody is being friendly to us. Even the rabbis, most of them.”
She gave Morris an accusing glare. “And don't pretend otherwise! You even like some of those rabbis.”
“Well . . . ”
“Fine. Yes, I like Mordecai and Isaac. But they're—they're—”
He made a vague motion with his hand. “Not exactly just orthodox rabbis. It's more complicated. More . . . ”
“Many-sided?” asked Melissa. “Full of potential, not just limits?”
Seeing her triumphant look, he scowled. Then, transferred the scowl to the servant Rifka when she entered the dining room.
Timidly, seeing her employer's expression, she drew back a pace.
“Oh, stop it, Morris!” snapped Judith. “He's not glaring at you, Rifka. He's just glaring the way he always does when one of his pet prejudices develops legs and starts walking around on its own instead of obeying his orders.”
She added a winning smile to settle the young woman's nerves. “What do you need?”
“Ah . . . nothing, Lady Judith. It's just that some people have arrived and insist on speaking to you immediately.”
“And that's another thing I miss,” muttered Morris. “Doorbells, so you'd know when somebody was at the blasted door.”
“House this size,” James muttered back, “you'd need a foghorn.”
Judith ignored both of them. “Please, show the visitors in. We've finished eating anyway.”
When the newcomers entered the room, Morris' expression darkened still further. Melissa's, on the other hand, was full of good cheer.
“Well, I do declare. Red Sybolt, in the flesh. We were just talking about you, as it happens. Or rather, I was. Morris was trying to evade the subject.”
“What subject?” asked Red. “But, first, some introductions.” He gestured to the four men who'd come in behind him.
“You know this big fellow, of course.” Pleasantly, the very large man standing just behind him nodded at the people at the table. That was Jan Billek, one of the central figures of the Unity of Brethren, the theologically-radical church led by Bishop Comenius which, in another universe, would be driven into exile and eventually become the Moravian church in America.