…was paramount. They set up beds, carried in the sick, and, under Ephraim’s direction Rachel and the helpers ministered to them, sponging, cooling, getting liquids into them. There was no point in bleeding or cupping. At first ten a day died. After a week this slowed to four a day. By the end of a month, it was four a week. Those who survived were scarred, disfigured with pitted pocks all over the face where the vicious disease always manifested most strongly. Some were blinded by smallpox, some crippled by its effect on joints. Overall a third of those infected would die. Among children Ephraim knew eighty per cent would die.
Ephraim is called to Macedonia to help in a smallpox outbreak. In Chapter 16, Epidemic, Rachel proves herself a worthy, skilful, kind assistant in the horrific and sad work. As the epidemic fades he has new respect for her. Despite her previous betrayals, perhaps the marriage can work…
… perfidious, in preventing Sarah from coming. Why? To hurt him? To beat him in one of their petty battles? He could hardly imagine the possibility that Rachel wished to have him all to herself. Perhaps it was to punish him for the years of so-called widowhood.
Jewish, Bulgarian & Muslim women in Ottoman Saloniki, 1873
After all, he in the first place had left Rachel and Sarah behind. But when it came to ‘in the first place’ it was his grandfather, Zayde, who had made them marry and created this mess. The buts and ifs and accusations chased through his head and he knew he would continue to tolerate his wife. He had to, it was his duty.
Ephraim is furious over two betrayals by his wife. In Chapter 15, The Taste of Learning, he learns she has prevented their daughter from joining them here in Turkey. And she has gossiped about the restrictions he has put on their conjugal life. What’s more, he is frustrated in his missionary work – and then he gets an order to move on.
They clasped hands. She wore dark green, and a lighter green bonnet, dark curls at her forehead, that creamy skin, hardly any wrinkles, those shining eyes. People surged around them, stevedores in baggy trousers, fezzed porters in kaftans.
Ephraim startled and looked to her left, to her right, tried to peer over her shoulder. ‘The porter promised to bring all the luggage,’ she said in the Belarusian of their youth.
‘But where is Sarah?’
‘In the end, she did not come.’ Rachel watched his stunned expression. ‘I am sorry. They kept her.’
It is 1860 and Ephraim has begun as a medical missionary in Saloniki, Turkey (today Thessalonika, Greece), at last reuniting with the wife he left in Brest-Litovsk ten years earlier. In Chapter 14, A Man Shall Cleave Unto His Wife, the mis-matched couple try for love while Ephraim struggles to convert the local Sephardic Jews to Christianity. And he fumes: will he never be allowed to meet his 12-year-old daughter?