Should she do as Mother said and honor her family? Elizabeth’s stomach revolted at the thought. When God said to honor your father and mother, to obey your parents, did He intend a son or daughter to do so at the expense of others? At the expense of the law?
Jonathan had honored his father. He’d followed King Saul into battle and ended up dead. But he’d honored God before all others and had protected David’s life in spite of his father’s wishes. Which choice was right for her? Did she follow her family at the expense of right? Or did she do right at the expense of her family?
She closed her eyes and saw her students’ bright, smiling faces as she gave her speech on education. Saw Miss Bowen rushing up to ask how much money was left in the academy’s bank account, and Miss Atkins’s hurt face after hearing she couldn’t help with the play. Saw Luke, arms crossed and hip cocked, as he leaned against her classroom door frame and watched her conclude a lesson, Luke offering assurance after Mother demanded she marry David, Luke brushing the hair from her face and asking her to give him a chance.
Luke had said something to her in the carriage last week. Something about family and God and obedience. What had it been?
We ought to obey God rather than men.
She’d looked up the verse the next day. The Apostle Peter had said it. He and several others had been thrown into prison for preaching, and that night God opened the doors of their cells and released them. Rather than run from the city, they’d gone straight back to the temple and started preaching again. Then soldiers came and brought them before the high priest who had thrown them in prison the day before.
And what did Peter say? Not that he would obey the priest. Not that he would cease preaching and leave the city. But that he would obey God rather than men.
Peter suffered a beating, more prison time and eventual death to obey God. Jonathan never saw his best friend and eventually lost his life in trying to honor both God and his father. And she...she’d lose her family, whom she loved and had once respected, and whose approval she still sought.
She opened her eyes. Her family stared at her, every one of them waiting for an answer. Yes, she would lose them. But she’d be following God. And she’d be protecting her students and the children at St. Thomas Orphanage, the patients at the hospital and the small business owners listed in the ledger.
She met her mother’s gaze. “You’ve made your own choices. Now you need to let me make mine. I have to obey God and act as the law demands. I’m sorry you’ll be hurt by my actions, but you’ve been throwing Bible verses at me since I was a little girl. You should be the first to understand why I need to obey them.”
Mother’s mouth fell open, then closed halfway before it dropped a second time. “But...but...” Confusion flitted across her face. Perhaps she was considering what she’d just heard, or perhaps she was formulating yet another way to plead for her family. Elizabeth hardly knew one way or the other.
“You’re being ridiculous, Ellen,” Father snapped, still standing guard at the door. “Why are you even considering the tripe Elizabeth’s spouting?”
She moved toward him, tucking the ledger close against her body. “Please move so I can pass.”
“Certainly, right after you give me the ledger.” Father extended his hand, still keeping his back against the wood of the door.
“I can’t. You know I can’t.”
“You don’t have a choice.”
She swallowed and glanced about the room. One door out. Two windows facing the street, and numerous pieces of furniture. Without access to the door, she had no way to get free short of smashing through the front windows. But maybe if she stayed and talked a bit longer, she could draw Father away from the door. He had to be getting tired of standing by now. But she’d need some sort of distraction, perhaps something to do with Mother.
Jackson appeared at her side, big and tall, with fury radiating off his body in tightly coiled waves. “Father said to hand over the ledger.”
She shrank back from him only to bump into Father. “Perhaps we should talk about this some more. We seem to be at quite an impasse.”
“The time for talking is done.” Jackson gripped the ledger and wrenched it away from her trembling fingers.
“No!” She grabbed for the pages, rushing after him as he moved to the center of the room. But she wasn’t fast enough. The proof of Jackson’s deceit stayed in his hands only a matter of seconds before he flung it into the fire.
“How could you?” She raced forward as the pages ignited and reached for the poker beside the blaze. If she could pull out the book and save a few pages, one or two examples might be enough to prove what her family had been doing.