He smiled at her in a way that made her cheeks even pinker than they were.
“Then we can continue to be friends?” he asked.
“I don’t see why not,” she replied. Her legs were still quivering, no longer from the ride, but from the strain of trying to appear unflustered and poised.
“Good,” he said with a broad, tooth-filled grin. “Come over here, and I will teach you how to shoot your rifle.”
Bat Sheva followed him to the other side of the shade tree. The valley spread out before them. Hills surrounded them on all sides. As far as she could see, they were completely alone. He told her to kneel down and handed her a rifle.
“Put the butt on your shoulder. That’s right. Now place your left hand on the barrel.”
He knelt down beside her and reached over her shoulder to position her hands on the rifle. He was so close to her, she could feel his breath on her cheek. Once again, she started to tremble.
“Hold it steady,” he said.
He reached his other arm around her to steady the barrel. Now their cheeks were touching. When she turned her head toward him, she fell into the pool of his piercing blue eyes. Their lips met. The rifle slipped from her hands. He caught it and set it gently down on the ground.
“I waited a long time for that kiss,” he said.
“You really did?” she asked, wanting to believe him.
“Yes.” He smiled and kissed her again. She knew that their kissing was wrong, but she didn’t have the strength to resist.
“Don’t move!” a gruff voice commanded.
It was the voice of an Arab. Bat Sheva didn’t understand the words, but she knew it was an order. Ben Zion froze in her arms. Slowly he pushed her aside.
“Don’t move!” the voice warned.
Bat Sheva saw a pair of sandals and the long, hanging skirt of a Bedouin. He bent down and picked up her rifle.
“Now yours,” the voice ordered.
Two other Arabs stood with their rifles aimed at the Jews. In the distance, another Arab stood holding the reins of their horses. The highwaymen had left the horses behind to sneak up on foot.
Ben Zion decided that this was not the time to be brave, especially with the girl at his side. Slowly, he pulled the strap of his rifle over his head.
“Don’t worry,” he told her.
“Quiet,” the Arab shouted.
Ben Zion held out his rifle. The Arab closest to them reached down to take it. Slowly, Ben Zion stood up.
“What do you want from us?” he asked the leader in Hebrew.
“This is our well,” the Arab replied in a Hebrew as good as the Jew’s.
“I dug this well with my friends,” Ben Zion insisted.
“We dug the well first. When we moved away from here, we covered the well up. Now we have come back to pasture our sheep on our land.”
“This is our land,” Ben Zion protested. “We bought the land from the Turkish government, and we have the deed to prove it.”
“My grandparents were here before the Turks,” the Arab maintained.
“That doesn’t make legal ownership,” Ben Zion answered.
“For us it does. We dug this well, grazed our flocks in this valley, and planted the olive trees on the hillsides.”
Ben Zion realized he wasn’t going to convince the Arabs with arguments, but without his rifle, and with the girl at his side, a fight was out of the question. Guns were pointed at them from all sides.
“We want you to stay away from our water. You and all of the Moscowbim with you.” Because the settlers came from Russia, the Arabs called them Moscowbim.
“And we forbid you to plow up our fields.”
“Good neighbors shouldn’t quarrel,” Ben Zion answered. “If there has been a misunderstanding, I am sure we can clear it up. I suggest we bring this dispute before the Turkish magistrate in Tiberias.”
The Turkish magistrate can be bribed, and you have more money than we do.”
“You may not recognize his authority, but if you harm us, my comrades will make sure that your leaders are put into prison, and your tribe will be expelled from the region.”