Extracts of Spies of Jerusalem
(From Chapter 34)
Jerusalem Citadel: 6 November 1917
Maeltzer heard the fajr prayer as usual then, just before dawn, he dreamed.
They were sudden, small dreams that dissolved into each other so quickly that
he quite forgot what, if anything, linked them. first he dreamed he was a small
boy again in Switzerland living in the little red-gabled house with the pointed
roof that went with the position his father held at the clinic. There was snow
and he was lying on his stomach on a small green toboggan which is father was
pushing down a slight slope that spring would reveal to be meadow where the cow
Maeltzer had on a woollen hat and scarf and mittens attached to a string around
his neck so that he wouldnt lose them. His father sported a check peaked
cap of the kind English gentlemen wore, although he knew beneath it would be
the maroon yarmulke.
It was cold. he could feel how cold it was by touching his nose with the back
of his wrist where there was a space between his mitten and his fur-lined jacket.
As the sledge gathered speed he looked behind him and saw that his fathers
breath was coming out in great white clouds. Youre breathing like
a train, Pap! he said. And he could see that the parent was delighted with
the metaphor. Such precocity! The boy would go far! In his exuberance the man
gave the sledge an extra hard shove so that it went so fast he was unable to
keep up with it. It went careering off towards the snow-covered wooden fence
at the bottom of the meadow, which had now grown steeper.
At first the child Maeltzer was thrilled by the way the toboggans runners
sprayed the loose now into his face. He looked back for his his father but all
he saw was the rushing whiteness. Then he was going faster and faster like the
way his father had told him the mad English milords went down the ice tunnel
at Cresta. He heard himself squealing in terror. The little green toboggan swayed
from side to side and he knew his only hope was to throw himself into the soft
snow before he hit the fence. Yet he seemed to be paralysed with fear and gripped
the wooden sides of the machine harder than ever. He could no longer even squeal.
Instead, a soundless shriek rose from his throat as he approached his nemesis.
at any moment he would have to pay for the cowardice which kept him glued firmly
to the sledge.
Then, at the last second, in one stomach-turning transition, almost a metamorphosis,
he escaped certain death by becoming airborne. Still on the toboggan he began
to soar above the red-gabled house, saw his father waving to him as if he intended
this levitation all along. The flight continued and now he was floating over
a valley which contained a quilt work of green and yellow fields, so clear of
snow they must have been in another country. He hovered like a hawk over this
valley for some time, felt the friendly warmth of the sun on his back, and was
beginning to fall into a gentle doze when the sky darkened and he heard the beating
of the wings before he felt their draught in his face.
They appeared to be some sort of huge seabirds, albatrosses perhaps, and they
swooped flapping and cawing, their filthy yellow beaks jabbing towards his eyes.
At first he tried to beat them off with his fists, large fists for he had grown
back into an adult Maeltzer. But their bills were razor-sharp and gashed his
knuckles, sot hat in the end all he could so was pout his head down and his hands
over his face. He felt the grip of he talons on his shoulder and was wrenched
off the toboggan. He fell with the bird, watched the ground coming up. It was
dark green; the tops of trees.
He was in a wood with Ilse, the daughter of his German teacher from school, a
man he still feared and respected although he had now left the gymnasium and
was studying modern history and philosophy at Zurich University. They were having
a picnic in a small, grassy clearing. Ilse was eighteen and attending a nearby
finishing school. She had high Slavic-looking cheekbones and rather thick pouting
lips, a bit like the Widow Shemsi. There was an auburn tint in her dark hair
which she had put up into a bun. She said, That chocolate gateau, Carl
- it was delicious.
Her brown eyes flashed and as she turned towards him he caught the glint of the
silver crucifix she wore at her throat. He offered her some more of the cake
and refilled her glass of wine. They were lying on their sides facing each other
on a chequered rug together with some plates and glasses that had been stealthily
placed towards the edges so that there was increasingly less space between them.
His excitement at having this unchaperoned meeting with his darling Ilse was
immense. The lies she must have told to arrange it! They were now practically
hip to hip.
The top two buttons of her blouse were undone; somehow the crucifix had slipped
down and planted itself in her cleavage. He picked it up and put it to his lips.
When he looked up he saw that she was looking at him in a tender, quizzical way.
They kissed, gently at first and gazing into each others eyes, but these
soon became great passionate tonguings that glued them together in unseeing bliss.
He became aware of the monstrous swelling between his legs. He moved slightly
forward so that the painful bulge was touching Ilse. Had she noticed? He pushed
a little harder. To his amazement she pushed back, ambiguously at first but soon
with quite a definite pelvic certainty.
Still joined by their lips his right hand went to her hair as he began to search
for the pins that kept her bun in place. To his astonishment he found the entire
device was held together by a single large hatpin. He pulled it out and as her
hair came down he felt her arms enfold him. He pushed her down onto the rug and
moved on top. His left hand was under her skirt now, under her skirt and under
her other clothing and up on her thigh and then to the warm, moist, secret place.
He felt her legs begin to part. The grip on his shoulders became stronger, more
urgent, talon-like. Then he became aware of the movement above him and knew that
the great bird was back on his shoulders pulling him away from Ilse. She tried
to hold onto him but the bird proved too powerful. He saw the looked of horror
come over her face as he was pulled away - except it was no longer Ilses
girlish beauty he was looking at but the mature features of the Widow Shemsi.
Maeltzer woke up then, the hand on his shoulder becoming more persistent. His
own right hand was still on Shemsis hatpin where he had hidden it in the
palliasse. He let it go and turned over on his back. Above him somebody was holding
an oil lantern. He squinted into the light and saw that it was Liebermann, the
portly Austrian prelate. Behind him were some Turkish soldiers, one of them an
officer. Im sorry, said Liebermann. Its time.
What? said Maeltzer. He was still with Ilse or Shemsi.
Its time - Im sorry. The priest looked embarrassed.
For a moment Maeltzsder thought he might still be dreaming. Then he took stock
of the waiting soldiers and some other shadowy figures behind the cleric and
realised what he was trying to tell him.
Now? he asked. Fear was beginning to flood through him. Why
no warning? I dont understand. He made it sound as if it would be
alright if he understood but as he didnt it was truly unthinkable. Why
Orders from Damascus, I think.
At night? Theyre going to do it at night in the dark?
Its almost dawn.
Of course, I heard the fajr prayer. I always do.
At least you had sleep, said Liebermann, who was secretly relieved
that the Turks had not allowed him to do some agonising death watch in which
he would have been obliged to try and save Maeltzers soul for eternity.
Normally, he would have been outraged by any authority which failed to give a
condemned man some time to prepare himself for his Maker. As it was, he was still
convinced that this spy would be more comforted by having a rabbi on his last
walk along the battlement to the noose that awaited him above the Damascus Gate.
However, the priest knew his duty. Wouldnt it be better, he
inquired gently, if you met your God repentant and cleansed of your sins?
If you are the spy Daniel then surely now is the time to confess it?
Oh my God! cried Maeltzer, burying his face in his hands and then
turning back onto his stomach.
Liebermann put his hand on his shoulder. Maeltzer was reminded of the dream bird.
He plunged his fist into both sides of his palliasse and hung on the way he had
clung to his flying toboggan.
Death comes to us all, said the Austrian. Be brave. You will
only make it worse for yourself.
But Maeltzer seemed to sink deeper into the palliasse.
Behind the priest the officer in charge of the escort, an elderly and befezzed
major whom had spent a good part of his career hanging men before breakfast on
behalf of his Sultan, was beginning to get impatient.
We cannot wait for ever, Father, he said in passable German, fingering
the guard of the short sabre he was wearing. If the prisoner is unable
to get to his feet I shall instruct my men to assist him. He will not be the
first man to be carried to the gallows.
There was a brief flurry of movement. Liebermann screamed, stood up and then
began to stagger back, clutching his right biceps. Good God! he shrieked. Hes
Maeltzer was on his feet, his right fist balled, and in the half light the major
did not see the Widow Shemsis hatpin contained in it although he felt it