It is the eve of Britain’s withdrawal from Palestine in 1948, a moment that will mark the beginning of a new Israel. But the course of history is uncertain, and Israel’s territorial enemies plan to smother the new country at its birth. Judith Roth has escaped the concentration camps in Germany only to be plunged into the new conflict, one with stakes just as high for her as they are for her people.
Initially conceived as a screenplay for the 1966 film starring Sophia Loren, Lawrence Durrell’s previously unpublished novel offers a thrilling portrayal of a place and time when ancient history crashed against the fragile bulwarks of the modernizing world.
This ebook features an introduction by editor Richard Pine, which puts Judith in context with Durrell’s body of work and traces the fascinating development of the novel. Also included is an illustrated biography of Lawrence Durrell containing rare images and never-before-seen documents from the author’s estate and the British Library’s modern manuscripts collection.
|Publisher:||Open Road Integrated Media LLC|
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By Lawrence Durrell, Richard Pine
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2012 Beneficiaries of the Estate of Lawrence Durrell
All rights reserved.
The Secret Rendezvous
The old "Zion" was something of a miracle-ship to the loafers upon the quays and wharves of Haifa; they said that she had no right to be afloat at all. They might perhaps have said the same of old Isaac Jordan, her skipper. As for real sailors who saw the old hulk bustling across the oily harbour water towards the outer sea, they respectfully removed their pipes and spat, gazing after her with a kind of awed sympathy bordering on horror. The Naval Station Commander, catching sight of her from the broad glass windows of the signal station, was apt to utter a pleasantry to his Number Two: "There she goes, with all the grace of a flat-iron!" Yet he noted with a professional eye that her speed was respectable considering her age; only her stability was somewhat questionable. She was about as stable in a head sea, he told himself, as a soap dish. Isaac was a madman to take her to sea. And yet, he had been doing it for years now.
Isaac had bought the "Zion" for a song in the thirties and harnessed her to the trade of smuggling despite her shape, which suggested that her original designer had intended her for use only in shallow estuaries, on lakes, or perhaps as an auxiliary to a dredger. It was with misgivings that he turned her nose to the open sea for the first time, for he was uncomfortably aware of her duckboard lines. Yet she was steel-built, he told himself, and his confidence was rewarded, for, though she fumed and wallowed and stank, she answered the wheel quite well at ten knots, and her pumps worked in an approximate fashion. What more could one ask?
Deeply relieved, Isaac took out a heavy insurance on her and put her to work, aided by his crew of ruffians of all nationalities, clad in rags and tatters, like gypsies. He had spent many happy years in her, now smuggling currency, now gold bars, specie, forged stamps, hashish, antiquities ... everything one could think of. "Zion" was his accessory after the fact.
As for Isaac Jordan himself, he was a stout grey man in his sixties, heavy of build and absolutely wedded to his cutty pipe. People said he slept with it in his mouth. In summer he wore a soiled yachting-cap of ancient cut and an equally soiled suit of pyjamas with a blue stripe. On the breast pocket of these, however, he sported a number of First World War decorations, both English and French, which earned him a certain measure of sympathy and even latitude from the port naval authorities. In winter, this impressive display was transferred to the breast of his coarse blue sweater of the kind issued to submarine artificers and worn under a sheepskin-lined duffle. Isaac was something of a character in the port and did not allow it to be forgotten that he was an ex-Naval Commander, "Retired R.N.". Moreover, those who might have been forgiven for believing that his medals were from the prop-room, so to speak, soon found to their chagrin that they were real and had been awarded him for services described as "gallant" in the official citations. This, then, was Isaac's own rather eloquent way of enjoying his retirement and his small pension; it may have been a tiring, if lucrative, profession, but he was suited to no other. The only really maddening thing about him from the point of view of the naval authorities was that they could never catch him in flagrante; even on the few occasions when "Limpet" had pounced on "Zion" and boarded her, they had found her cargo innocent, indeed, quite unexceptionable. Isaac smiled and spat over the side with a kind of mournful satisfaction. Nor did he spare young Derek Noble of the "Limpet". "Call yourselves a Royal Navy, eh? It's gone down since I left it, that's all I can say." And if Noble did not choose to bandy words with him on the high seas it was because he knew very well that the banter would be continued at leisure over a glass of buttered rum in the Chatham Bar in Haifa the following evening.
Within the last few years, however, Isaac had somewhat changed the nature of his trade. Stirred by the fate of his fellow-Jews in Germany, he had volunteered to smuggle weapons into Palestine for the Jewish Agency. The journeys were longer and more dangerous, the profit nominal. Nevertheless, the old "Zion" plugged up and down the eastern Mediterranean full of crates demurely labelled "Agricultural Machinery". His landfalls were many and curious, and seldom the same twice running. He brought all his skill and experience to bear now in blockade breaking, for the British blockade was tight. So far he had been successful — indeed, so successful as to cause a great deal of bad language and impotent signalling between the corvettes and destroyers which maintained the patrol of the northern reaches of the country. Isaac was always either inside or outside some statutory sea-limit, to the intense fury of "Limpet", "Termagant", "Havoc" and several others of the iron bloodhounds of the Fleet. They made books on him, they laid bets on him, they dreamed of catching him, but so far he had always managed to slip through the mesh. Derek Noble became so infuriated that he spoke darkly of putting a torpedo through "Zion" in the harbour "just to show that damned old rogue Jordan". Other commanders developed their own theories about Isaac's facility for disappearing at sea; these varied between notions of black magic and ideas of dematerialization. Isaac himself suggested mildly that the "Zion" was really a submarine. Once clear of harbour, he had only to submerge ... No wonder "Limpet" always made a fool of herself.
On the spring dawn in question, they had been playing this elaborate game of cat and mouse along the shores of Turkey in a light but highly convenient sea-mist — convenient for Isaac, that is. The chase had been full of promise for young Noble, for it was clear that "Zion" was making a secret landfall somewhere along these forbidden headlands; the only question was whether he could intercept her on the homeward leg. In his mind's eye he saw himself gazing down through her hatches at rows of neatly stacked rifles or grenades while Isaac puffed his pipe, for once completely at a loss for an explanation. That would be a moment to boast about. In fact, he had excited himself so much by the prospect of this encounter that he had stayed up on the bridge to brood upon it, as he stared into the vague darkness ahead with its packets of shifting mist. Somewhere out there the "Zion" plodded along, unconscious of the warship dogging her. On the other hand, they were getting uncomfortably near the forbidden sea-limits, Turkish territorial waters. He must be careful.
At about four-thirty, when the horizon had just begun to etch itself on the darkness, "Zion" slid off the radar screen and evaporated. Noble groaned slightly at the information and put down his night-glasses with a gesture of weariness. He drank some coffee and heard a waggish Signals Officer remark: "Gone to ground — we'll have to start digging." Noble turned "Limpet" through a slow arc of ten degrees and sighed. The dark coast ahead, he knew from his charts, was deeply indented and fretted with creeks and harbours; some of them had more than one entrance or exit. With her shallow draught, "Zion" could penetrate anywhere. Moreover, Isaac was not called upon to be law-abiding as "Limpet" was. "Too bad, Sir," said a sympathetic voice. Noble shrugged off the sympathy with hauteur. "You wait, we'll catch her on the home leg," he said, though his voice lacked conviction. He felt suddenly sleepy — the dawn was coming up. "Limpet's" engine drummed softly and her screw gnawed rhythmically in the still sea. He shook his fist across the intervening sea-miles of mist and darkness. "Ah, you wait!" he said. Well, once more they would have to cruise up and down in desolate fashion, like a cat before a mousehole, waiting for "Zion" to re-emerge on her homeward run. Peevishly, the young commander decided that it was time to turn in.
Surely this time everything would be different and they would catch old Jordan on the hop? One never knew in this game.CHAPTER 2
A Landfall in Turkey
But by this time Isaac and his crew were fast asleep, disposed about the deck in inelegant positions, shrouded in sacks and tarpaulins. The young Yemeni boy, alarm pistol in hand, stood on watch, listening to the rhythmic throaty snorting which vibrated on the early morning air. Such arms as they carried were laid within easy reach of the sleepers. Isaac had not forgotten, before turning in, to haul down the tattered Red Ensign his ship bore and to substitute for it a Turkish merchant marine flag, carefully selected from a huge bundle of assorted flags — a veritable library — which he kept stowed in a locker. He had debated for a moment or two whether or not to back it up with a plague signal as well, but had finally discarded the idea — it might savour of over-acting. So they slept peacefully like a litter of cats, while the sun soared out of the sea and threw its cool shadows of cliff and headland upon the still waters in which "Zion" lay.
It was mid-morning before the direct sunlight woke them, glaring down on their unshaven faces and creased eyes. The Yemeni boy brewed tea with a studious air and added condensed milk to it as he handed round the tin mugs. Yawning and stretching, they looked about them with satisfaction. They were quite alone in a harbour of natural rock, distinguished only by the fact that there was an abandoned jetty with a small rusty crane, together with the anomalous remains of a light railway which, at some time in the distant past, had connected with a stone tip jutting from an abandoned quarry on the hillside. But the workings had long since been abandoned, the miners had gone. It was a desolate corner, overgrown with shrubs and arbutus. Tortoises crunched about, hunting for warm stones on which to doze; lizards flickered among the rocks, bent on the same errand. High up in the blue a golden eagle sat motionless, staring down at them. The cliff-tops were deserted; so was the narrow rutted road which climbed up into nowhere. Isaac rubbed his hands with pleasure and sipped the nauseating ship's brew with unction. They were hours too early for the rendezvous, and this too was very pleasant: Isaac was a methodical man and liked to take his time. The crew smoked and lounged, while from the galley came the pleasant odour of a beef stew with olives.
Nadeb, the engineer, went so far as to climb the nearest cliff and sweep the horizon with the glasses, but the few smudges he picked up were too distant to identify. It pleased him, however, to imagine that they were "Limpet" and "Havoc" sniffing down a false trail. He made a signal to the ship and cried, "We've lost them!"
"For how long, I wonder," said Isaac thoughtfully, thinking of the return journey ahead of them. Nadeb had turned the glasses onto the Turkish coast now, sweeping the cliffs slowly and methodically. He picked out the distant smoke of a little town or hamlet, but no trace of guard posts or sentries. He came slowly down to sea-level once more and sat upon the jetty, dangling his long legs. "It's absolutely deserted," he said, in a tone touched with regret — he enjoyed excitement and was a choice shot with a pistol or a rifle. "Not a soul about."
Isaac grunted happily as he filled his pipe.
"With any luck we'll have the same mist tonight," added Nadeb. "It will be an easy run, smooth as milk."
Both did so and smiled. Isaac rose and stretched, emitting a fragrant cloud of smoke from mouth and nostrils. "I should say they will be here by five or six — then a quick load and turn-around, and ... our troubles will begin." He was not really as pessimistic as he sounded. They fell briefly to business now, standing the "Zion" in close alongside the ramshackle pierhead under the crane, and making her fast to the still-sturdy bollards. Then, as the crew fell to darning socks or playing cards, Isaac spent an hour with his pocket Bible, pencil and pad. He had contracted a schoolboy passion for playing county-cricket in this fashion, letting each letter stand for a number of runs scored. The life of each batsman was determined by the emergence of the letters "O" (out), "B" (bowled), "C" (caught), and so on. He had in fact managed in this singular fashion to play his way twice through the Bible without actually reading a word of it. He was in the middle of Judges now. It looked as though Surrey was going to beat Kent.
So the day passed in fitful lounging, punctuated by intervals for food and wine; some of the crew went ashore and skidded pebbles along the flat surface of the water. The sun was warm too, too warm. The Yemeni slept. The atmosphere was that of a leisurely picnic in some London park. They had almost forgotten their assignment, it would seem. Nadeb played patience earnestly, swearing softly from time to time.
A cry brought them to their feet: on the top of the headland stood the small and stocky figure of a young man. He wore a dirty mackintosh, cloth cap and long jackboots. He signalled with a kind of tentative urgency, the purport of his gestures being to enquire whether everything was normal. Isaac nodded and gave the pre-arranged reply by shaking hands with himself like a Chinaman. The young man nodded and pointed away across the cliffs; he disappeared at a lurching run.
"Here they come," said Nadeb. Isaac, carefully consulting his watch and then the now westering sun, only grunted agreement. In a little while the noises of motors gradually grew upon the silence and increased in volume, until at last the two lorries appeared against the sky with their loaded crates jogging. They changed into bottom gear and, slowly as snails, dipped down upon the rough cart track, grinding and screeching. Beside them walked a little group of officials wearing a uniform which vaguely suggested a Customs Service; rather ahead, and accompanying the young man, walked a tall man in plain clothes who had the indefinable air of a plainclothes policeman. They advanced with grave courtesy, and Isaac and his crew stepped forward to meet them. The young man in the jackboots had a strong and purposeful air which suggested that this was his responsibility, his operation. His handclasp was rough like his voice. He said "Karageorge" and gave a stiff, sawing bow, full of grave awkwardness. Isaac responded with a bob, and, taking his pipe from his mouth, announced himself as "Jordan".
"Everything is in order."
After a grave ritual of handshakes, they turned their united attention to the loading operation: the lorries were run carefully onto the slip and the squeaky crane was brought into play to shift the crates aboard. The young man now touched Isaac's arm; he had begun to look nervous and his lips trembled. "You'll have to hurry," he said in a low voice. Isaac turned from the chaffering crew and the officials to look at him. "Hurry?" he said. "Why?"
The young man turned aside and beckoned to him with a short choppy gesture: he wanted to tell him something which must not be overheard by the rest of the group — or so it seemed. Not that there was any apparent danger, for everyone was talking amiably, the officials in low voices. Money was being exchanged and papers which looked like Bills of Lading. Isaac walked over to the young man who uttered a few words — words so apparently surprising that the old man let the pipe drop from his mouth and only just retrieved it before it fell to the ground. His face had gone blank. He gazed uncomprehendingly at the crates. "Which ones?" he asked hoarsely. The young man licked his lips and answered, "Number Two and Three. They are marked." Isaac turned upon him with sudden incoherent expostulation. "But, my God," he burst out, "surely you could have ...?" A gesture from the young man silenced him. "There were great difficulties. The Agency had trouble. There was nothing else to be done."
Excerpted from Judith by Lawrence Durrell, Richard Pine. Copyright © 2012 Beneficiaries of the Estate of Lawrence Durrell. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Table of Contents
1: The Secret Rendezvous,
2: A Landfall in Turkey,
3: Arrival in Darkness,
5: The Kibbutz,
6: The Long Arm of Chance,
7: The Professor,
8: Daily Bread,
9: Operation "Welcome",
10: The Cipher,
12: David and Grete,
13: Jerusalem Interlude,
14: A Visitant,
15: The Paper-Chase,
16: Lawton and the Ambassador,
17: Enter Schiller,
18: Exit Isaac Jordan,
19: Across the Border,
20: Into Egypt,
21: Schiller's End,
22: Pulling Out,
23: New Dispositions,
24: A Gift for Ras Shamir,
25: Lovers' Meeting,
26: Love and War,
27: The Ultimatum,
28: The Kibbutz Embattled,
29: After the Battle,
30: The Decision,
A Biography of Lawrence Durrell,