After recuperating from his terrible ordeal in a Nazi concentration camp, British paratrooper Sammy rejoins his platoon which has been sent to police the increasingly volatile situation in Palestine. There, he hopes he might be able to find his beloved Naomi – the woman who helped him survive in the camp.
Sammy isn’t your average Parachute Regiment captain, and he uses every opportunity (when he’s not searching for Naomi) to take in the local cultural offerings. Whilst sitting in a cafe in Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Square waiting for the start of a concert in the nearby hall, he makes a different, all the more unexpected, encounter with another woman from his past. Lesley Carrington, the young, beautiful Foreign Office official who questioned him about his ordeal while he was recovering in Germany, is just as surprised to find Sammy there.
It turns out that Lesley is also heading to the concert at the Dizengoff Hall, so they decide to go together.
The character of Sammy is an amalgam of many soldiers William served with whilst he was in the Parachute Regiment. Like Sammy, William fought in Arnhem (the famous battle for the “Bridge Too Far”) and then saw action in Palestine after the war.
Tel Aviv, Palestine. 1946
They settled into their seats. The hall felt cool in contrast to the heavy atmosphere outside in the square. The chatter from the largely Jewish audience was, as usual, cacophonous but Lesley seemed not to notice, engrossed as she was in the detail of her programme. Sammy watched her, a soft smile set upon his lips. He recalled their first encounter. Broken by his ordeal and crushed by the loss of Naomi, he had no mind for anything beyond an obsession to find her until he entered an office in Hanover and faced Lesley for the first time. He recalled how she had excited within him a desire, unexpected yet irrepressible, which brought with it a sense of confusion and self reproach. Believing his devotion to Naomi absolute he had tried desperately to suppress these strange and alluring emotions, to rid himself of his infatuation. But the images of their encounter remained with him to remind him how, for one brief moment, he had felt again the touch of intimacy and the brightness of joy when all had seemed so dark. He felt that same contentment now, like the reprise of an enchanting melody and felt again that same desire quicken within him. He sighed softly as he contemplated her beauty. He wanted to touch her, to stroke her hair, to kiss her. She turned to him, smiling and raised her programme.
‘According to this, your Mahler was not exactly a bundle of laughs.’ He held her gaze, smiling wistfully. She tilted her head quizzically. ‘Sammy?’
He nodded slowly. ‘Perhaps not, but wait till you hear his music.’
She studied the programme again then said dismissively, ‘He looks like a Jewish pawnbroker.’
He laughed, snapping out of his reverie. ‘And what does a Jewish pawnbroker look like, compared say, with a Presbyterian pawnbroker?’
She punched him playfully. ‘You know what I mean, don’t pretend to be obtuse. Just look at this picture, look at those awful little specs.’
He nodded. ‘You are right, that is obviously why Ben calls him “Uncle Gustav”.’
Chuckling happily, she found herself warming once again to his boyish humour. She recalled how, while still recovering from the brutal treatment he had received in the camp, he could still crack a joke.
He smiled at her. ‘Happy, pretty lady?’
‘Oh poor Ben, he was so sweet. Yes I am, very happy. This is nice, such a lovely surprise, not at all what I expected when I left Jerusalem today.’
He frowned and a question began to form but a ripple of applause diverted his attention. ‘Look out, here comes the Konzertmeister, we’re off.’
She sat up expectantly. ‘What’s this conductor like?’ she whispered.
‘Bernstein? Young, very energetic. Nice Jewish boy from New York.’
The conductor approached the rostrum to rapturous applause. ‘He’s very popular.’ Lesley looked at Sammy.
‘Well, he’s almost a local boy, keeps a house on the edge of town, I believe.’ His voice dropped to a whisper as a hush fell upon the hall.
Bernstein took up his baton and stood for some moments, posing theatrically, head bowed, hands clasped before him. He looked up suddenly and with a flourish of his baton, swept the orchestra into the frenzied opening bars of Richard Strauss’s Don Juan. Lesley had not heard the music before, Strauss being effectively expunged from the English musical repertoire for the duration because of his perceived allegiance to the Nazis. She sat, transfixed. She had never experienced orchestral sound like this, the belling brass contrasting with tender woodwind melodies and sumptuous strings. She clapped enthusiastically and squeezed Sammy’s arm in her excitement. ‘Wasn’t that wonderful?’ she shouted above the applause.
He looked at her face, so animated with pleasure and he wanted to crush her to him. He simply smiled. ‘And the best is yet to come.’
It took her ear a little time to attune to Mahler. Gradually, she found herself swaying in her seat to the rhythms of marches, waltzes, ländler, then laying back, eyes closed, drinking in the rich, sensuous orchestration. Bernstein took a rest after the third movement, standing again, head bowed on the rostrum. She glanced sideways at Sammy. He smiled at her. ‘Like it?’ She nodded, sighing. Then suddenly, as she gazed at him, she heard a harp and the strings, following its meter, began to play the most beautiful and poignant love music she had ever heard. She glanced at Sammy again. His eyes were closed and his face bore a quiet, wistful expression. She recalled Ben’s remark, ‘even Vlad the Impaler will look good’, and she felt herself being irresistibly drawn to him. Not to the fearsome, violent man she had first encountered in Germany, a man consumed with hatred and anger, but to a gentle, sensitive man, compelled by cruel and intolerable circumstance to act against his true nature. She turned to face the orchestra again and slowly pushed her hand into his. At first he did not respond, but then gradually his grip tightened and she leaned into him.
Pegasus Falling is available now in paperback and ebook from Amazon.com (www.amazon.com/dp/B007K8QM8E)
William Edward Thomas was born in West London in 1925.
He left The Brompton Oratory School when he was 14 and started work as a messenger at the BBC. When war broke out, he went to work with his father at a factory in Harrow. While still a teenager, William joined the army and was soon recruited in to the Parachute Regiment. By May 1945, he had been “dropped” in to a number of key battles and become a much decorated soldier. He was still only 19 years old. Following the war, William served in Palestine until 1948.
William has six children. As they were growing up, he was working and studying in shifts as a merchant seaman and an engineer. In his mid fifties, he decided to work full time as a lab technician at his Alma Mater, The Open University and remained there until his retirement. It was during his retirement that he decided to set himself the challenge of writing a novel. The Cypress Branches is the result.
William was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2006. His health has since deteriorated to the point where he can no longer live at home and he is now in full-time care in the town UK of Milton Keynes, where he had lived for 25 years. He is visited by friends and family daily.
Note: This excerpt is part of the IT NEVER WAS YOU Blog Tour at http://acuteanglebooks.blogspot.com/2013/04/inwy-tour.html As part of the tour, Mike Harris is using Rafflecopter to give away a $50 Amazon gift certificate, 3 paperbacks and 10 ebooks. You can enter here: a Rafflecopter giveaway
Listen to the Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, the music that melted Lesley’s heart: