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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 grazed.

Maeltzer had on a woollen hat and scarf and mittens attached to a string around his neck so that he wouldn’t 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 father’s breath was coming out in great white clouds. “You’re 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 toboggan’s 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 other’s 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 Ilse’s 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 Shemsi’s 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. “I’m sorry,” said Liebermann. “It’s time.”

“What?” said Maeltzer. He was still with Ilse or Shemsi.

“It’s time - I’m 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 don’t understand.” He made it sound as if it would be alright if he understood but as he didn’t it was truly unthinkable. “Why now?”

“Orders from Damascus, I think.”

“At night? They’re going to do it at night in the dark?”

“It’s 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 Maeltzer’s 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. “Wouldn’t 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. “He’s stabbed me.”

Maeltzer was on his feet, his right fist balled, and in the half light the major did not see the Widow Shemsi’s hatpin contained in it although he felt it quickly enough.


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  The Last Crusade
London, 1991
ISBN: 1 85619 0765

Sinclair-Stevenson Paperback 1993 and 1994
ISBN 1 85619 475 2
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