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Illingworth House: Chance Child, Part Two - 54

Miriam goes to Israel to work in a kibbutz, and there she is attracted to another man.

John Waddington-Feather continues his dramatic story of the Illingworths, a Yorkshire mill-owning family.

As the days rolled by she'd a horrible feeling he'd jilted her and was using the black-out as an excuse. She was frantic, then angry when he didn't write, and finally found herself in a dilemma when her father pressurized her to go to a kibbutz he sponsored. He'd a house in Jerusalem and had for some time financed land settlement on former Arab territory. A doctor was badly needed at the kibbutz and when she heard nothing from John, she flew out to Israel to help temporarily at a settlement near the Egyptian border. If she threw herself into her job, she thought it would take her mind off him.

Her job took her to several settlements, including one near an Arab village. The day before she arrived terrorists had attacked an Israeli patrol. It had been a very vicious attack following a mortar bombing of the nearby Jewish settlement, where five people had been killed and others left injured. Miriam was plunged at once into the mess.

The leader of the settlement welcomed her warmly. He was an American called Frank Werfel, who'd emigrated to Israel five years before. Most of the others were Europeans, some of them survivors of the Holocaust. Werfel was a tall handsome man, strikingly so and he was an orthodox Jew like Miriam's father, a passionate believer in restoring Israel to its Davidic boundaries. This he saw as a divine right, God's gift to the Jews. He said it was at the heart of their faith and never ceased telling her. He showed her round the settlements, pointing out the progress they'd made since taking over the land. They'd made the desert bloom with the money her father had given them and were very grateful to him. Grateful to her, too, for stepping in at such short notice. "There was nothing here before but donkeys, sand and Arabs," he said as he drove her round, and soon made it clear he'd nothing but contempt for the Arabs who'd farmed the land for generations before they'd been driven off.

Miriam was impressed by what she saw, most of all by the spirit of co-operation. The oneness was infectious and she soon felt at home. The womenfolk worked on the land alongside the men and their children were looked after in a creche. It seemed an ideal life style, except for one thing: they all carried arms and their weapons were always at hand.

When she arrived, she was given an automatic and taught how to use it by Frank Werfel. He said the situation at the kibbutz was like their forebears returning from captivity to re-build Jerusalem. "It's a re-play of 'Nehemia'," he said, as he stood close behind her, putting his arms around her to hold her wrists, his hands over hers as she gripped the automatic. He was well built and had strong arms. As he put them round her she shivered. She didn't know why, only that he felt so strong and masculine.

She wasn't into her Bible as much as him and asked about Nehemia as they walked to the target to see how she'd done. He smiled showing his fine teeth. He'd a handsome rugged face and continued holding her hand. "He was the governor who re-built the walls of the city, when Geshem the Arab threatened them. Everyone building the walls kept his weapon by his side - like us. You never know when the Arabs will attack."

Werfel had charisma all right. He talked easily and charmed everyone he met. It was easy to see why they'd made him their leader. He was a rock - but he was also ruthless. She didn't see that side of him till later, and by then she'd fallen under his spell, and he'd fallen well and truly for her.

They went through the routine of firing again and this time he held her a little closer. He said she'd shoot better if she were stabilised, and tightened his hold. When they done, instead of leading her to the target, he tried to kiss her. She turned her face just in time. He wasn't serious, he said, and passed it off as a joke. "Better luck next time," he said laughing, and she laughed, too, but as they walked to the target hand in hand, she felt attracted to him more and more.

They shared their evening meals in a common room, where the settlers chatted afterwards till they went to their lodgings one by one. The married couples went first leaving the others in the bar. Miriam stayed on with Frank Werfel as he told her his history. He already knew much about her for he'd spoken to her father often. They'd sat together throughout the meal and when they got to the bar he began, "So, Miriam Horovitz..."
Surprised she asked, "How do you know my real name?"

"Your father's told us all about you. Sent us your C.V., and your photo." He pulled her snap from his pocket. "We always like to know who's coming here, who's to be part of the family." He gave one of his ready laughs and looked at the photo, telling her how beautiful she was and how they liked to have beautiful women at the kibbutz. She blushed and smiled. He was free with his compliments to women, freer to her than most.

"Did your father tell you anything about me?" he asked. She shook her head. He looked serious and she liked him better that way. "I was born in Prague like you, but my folks got out just in time. They knew your mother and father." He put his hand on hers as he saw the old sadness come into her face. He was the first person she'd met apart from John who linked directly with her past. She wanted to hear more and they chatted well into the night talking about the past and why he'd come to Israel.

"After the Holocaust, the Jews had to have a land they could return to, a homeland," he said earnestly. "The fate of your family and millions of other Jews has made that imperative. That's why we have to found a new Israel and expand, to make sure all Jews can settle here if they wish - and to make sure it's never again taken from us."

He spoke with passion and his eyes held the fire of a zealot. For him, religion and nationalism were one, nothing had to stand in its way and by the time he'd finished speaking he'd almost won her to the rightness of his cause. She was to change her mind a few days later.

He walked her to her room and they stood in the doorway holding hands before he said goodnight. The night was hot and sultry and the scent from orange groves hung heavily all about them. Somewhere near someone was strumming a smoochy love-song on his guitar. He leaned over her and she lifted her face. He sought her mouth hungrily and began kissing her and nibbling her neck. Then his hands moved over her breasts. Fighting the hot desire which surged through her, she drew off and abruptly wished him goodnight before going inside.

Once there she flung herself on her bed hot and bewildered, listening to his footsteps going away. Crickets sang in the garden outside and bull-frogs chorused. The orange scent drifted through the open window as the night throbbed all around her. She lay quite still and wondered what was happening to her. Then she turned her face to the window and gazed at the moon and stars. "John, John," she whispered to herself, "please write to me. Please.. .before it's too late."

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