“Sonia!” he exclaimed in surprise.
“You seem to stick together like glue.”
“She’s like a sister, that’s all.”
Bat Sheva wanted to hear how she was different, but Ben Zion didn’t add another word. Down the hill, at the entrance to the kibbutz, a figure stood waiting. He stood with his hands on his hips, staring up into the hills.
“It looks like we have been missed,” Ben Zion noted.
“It’s my father,” she said.
“Yes. I recognized the thunderbolts crashing over his head.”
“Surely he’s worried.”
“He probably has the whole kibbutz searching for us.”
“What are we going to tell him?”
“The truth,” Ben Zion said.
“He will kill me.”
“He’ll probably want to kill me too. We can be buried in the same grave, like Romeo and Juliet.”
“Like who?” Bat Sheva asked.
“You have never heard of Romeo and Juliet?”
“No. Who were they?”
“You really are something special, aren’t you?” he said, as if noticing for the first time.
Bat Sheva blushed, though she couldn’t tell if he meant it as a compliment, or whether he was simply laughing at her.
“I will tell you the story the next time we meet,” he said. “In the meantime, let’s tell your father that you went out for a walk and got lost. I happened along and found you.”
Bat Sheva agreed. She wasn’t sure she could lie to her father, but it was worth a try. When they reached the bottom of the hill, her father squared his shoulders and snorted like a bull preparing to charge. Bat Sheva tried to return his gaze, but she couldn’t. His fiery look pierced through her body like horns.
“Nu?” was all he said, waiting for his daughter to explain. But before she could speak, he held up a hand.
“On second thought, I don’t want to hear. Why add the sin of lying to the dishonor you have shown toward your father?”
Bat Sheva lowered her glance to the ground.
“Go to the house!” he commanded.
“But, Abba,” Bat Sheva began.
Hearing his daughter address him in Hebrew made Tevye more enraged than he was, reminding him of the dangerous breaches taking place on the kibbutz all around him, cutting him off from the familiar safeguards of the past.
“Go to the house!” he roared at his daughter.
Blushing, the girl hurried along the path toward the tiny dwellings. Tevye turned to Ben Zion. Under his milkman’s blue work shirt, his muscles were twitching.
“You remember my warning to keep away from my daughter?”
“Don’t jump to conclusions, Reb Tevye,” Ben Zion said. “I found her lost in the valley surrounded by Arabs. I had to barter my horse and my rifle in order to save her.”
“You are a liar,” Tevye accused.
“I am willing to swear by the Five Books of Moses,” Ben Zion avowed.
“I won’t let you profane the Good Book on my account. Nor will I let you profane the honor of my daughter.”
Tevye’s eyes were glowing. His hands squeezed closed as if they were already grasping the veins of Ben Zion’s neck.
“Let’s settle this here and now,” he said.
Ben Zion felt confident that he could fend off the aging milkman, but he had second thoughts about standing in the way of a mad stampeding bull.
“I am telling you the truth,” he said.
“The children saw you ride off with Bat Sheva this morning,” Tevye revealed.
For a moment, Ben Zion was silent. His eyes darted from side to side, like a fox trapped in a barn. Vaguely, he remembered seeing children playing with horseshoes in a yard when he and Bat Sheva had galloped off.
“Please, Tevye, believe me,” he tried to explain. “Nothing happened between us. Not even one kiss.”
A bellow rumbled in Tevye’s chest. He charged forward, hands outstretched, head lowered like a ram. Ben Zion realized that he couldn’t rely on his own strength to save him from the upcoming collision. So he dodged to the side and started to run. Like a gazelle frightened away by a gunshot, he bolted away from the onrushing danger. Tevye stumbled a few lunging steps after him, but the agile youth was already prancing away down the road.