Authors: M. M. Kaye
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Remembering TINA and JAY â With Love
Few people nowadays will remember the Mau Mau terrorist rising in Kenya, and millions more will never even have heard of it. But it was an unpleasant business while it lasted. I happened to be in Kenya towards the end of that period, because my husband's regiment had been sent there to deal with âThe Emergency' â which was the white settlers' name for it. And despite some hair-raising moments, I can truthfully say that I enjoyed practically every minute of my stay in that marvellous and exciting country.
The idea for this story came into my mind one evening when I was standing on our verandah in the dusk, and I heard birds calling down in the papyrus swamp that fringed the shores of Lake Naivasha. But the book itself, originally published under the prophetic title
Later Than You Think,
did not take shape until after we had left Kenya. Em's house,
is an amalgam of several houses built by early settlers in the Rift or on the Kinangop, but I chose to site it on the same spot as the one we ourselves lived in. The opinions voiced by my characters were taken from life and at first hand. For though the Wind of Change was rising fast, very few of the Kenya-born settlers would believe that it could possibly blow strongly enough to uproot them from a country that every single one of them looked upon, and loved, as a
âLand where my fathers died, Land of the pilgrim's prideâ¦'
A flock of pelicans, their white wings dyed apricot by the setting sun, sailed low over the acacia trees of the garden with a sound like tearing silk, and the sudden swish of their passing sent Alice's heart into her throat and dried her mouth with panic. The shadows of the stately birds flicked across her and were gone, and she leaned weakly against the gate in the plumbago hedge and fought for control.
It was absurd and childish to allow herself to become so hag-ridden by fear that the mere passing of a flight of birds could set her flinching and cowering. But she could not help herself. She had fought fear for too long, and now at last she had reached the limits of endurance. She would have to leave Kenya: she and Eden. Surely he would see that she could not stand any more. For now, in addition to her fear of the country there was her terror of the house.
Alice had always been afraid of Kenya. It seemed to her a savage and uncivilized land full of brooding menace, in which only Em's luxurious house had provided a narrow oasis of safety and comfort. But now there was no longer any safety anywhere, for strange things had been happening in the house of late. Inexplicable, malicious, frightening thingsÂ â¦
It was the cat, declared Zacharia, the old grey-headed Kikuyu who had served Em for almost forty years, explaining away the first appearance of the invisible vandal who had taken to haunting the house. Who else could have thrown down the K'ang Hsi vase from the top of the cabinet where it had stood for so many years? There had been no wind. As for the bottle of red ink that had rolled, unstoppered, across the carpet upon which the Memsahib set such store, there had been a bird in the room â see, here was a feather! Pusser must have pursued it, and in doing so knocked over both ink bottle and vase.
But Em had not believed it. She had stormed and raged and questioned the African servants, but to no avail. And later, when other things were broken or defaced, Zacharia had made no further mention of Pusser. He and the other house servants had gone about their duties with scared faces and starting, frightened eyes, and Em, too, had said nothing more. She had only become quieter â and looked grim and grey and very old.
Lady Emily DeBrett â Em DeBrett of
â had come to Kenya as a bride in the Colony's early days, and she and her husband, Gerald, had been among the first white settlers in the Rift Valley.
Gerald had never looked upon Kenya as anything more than a Tom Tiddlers Ground. But the seventeen-year-old Emily had taken one look at the great golden valley with its cold craters and savage lava falls, its lily-strewn lakes and its vast herds of game, and had fallen in love with it as some women fall in love with a man.
Gerald had staked out a claim on the shores of Lake Naivasha: acres and acres of virgin land on which he intended to raise sheep and cattle, and grow sisal and maize and lucerne. And on a rising slope of ground, overlooking the lake, he had built a crude mud and wattle hut that had in time given place to a small stone-built house; square, ugly and unpretentious. Em had named the farm
because a flight of those fantastic rose-coloured birds had flown across it on that first evening; and
it had remained.
Kendall, Em's son, had been born in the mud and wattle house and christened in the small stone building that had replaced it. There had been no other children, for when Kendall was three years old his father had been killed by a fall from his horse. But
had already begun to justify all Gerald's hopes, and Em had refused to go home. âThis is my home,' she had said, âand I will never leave it.'
The estate had prospered, and she had pulled down the ugly stone house that Gerald had built, and raised in its stead a huge, sprawling single-storeyed house to her own design. A thatch-roofed house with wide verandahs and spacious rooms panelled in undressed cedar wood, that defied all architectural rules and yet blended with the wild beauty of the Rift Valley as though it had always been a part of it; and Em loved it as she had never loved Gerald or her son Kendall.
She had been a remarkably pretty woman, and she was barely twenty when her husband died; but she did not marry again. Partly because her absorption in the affairs of her estate left her little time for other interests, and partly because hard and unremitting toil soon dispelled that pink-and-white prettiness. She wore, from choice, trousers and shirt and a man's double-terai hat, and as her abundant hair was too much trouble to keep in order, she cropped it short. At thirty she might have been forty-five or fifty, and from forty onwards, though she became increasingly bulky, she was merely an elderly and eccentric woman whose age it would have been impossible to guess.
Kendall was sent home to Eton, and from there to Oxford. And it was from Oxford, on his twenty-second birthday, that he sent a cable telling of his marriage to pretty Clarissa Brook.
Clarissa had proved to be a girl after Em's own heart, and as Mr Rycett, Em's manager, had retired that year, Kendall had stepped into his place, and he and Clarissa had moved into the manager's house; a pleasant stone-built bungalow in the grounds of
barely six hundred yards from the main house, and hidden from it by a grove of acacias and a plumbago hedge. But Eden DeBrett, Em's first grandson, was born at
Em had insisted on that. âHe must be born in this house. It will be his one day.' And looking at the baby she had thought with pride: I have founded a dynasty. A Kenya dynasty! A hundred years from now â two hundred â there will be DeBretts living in this house and farming this land when Kenya is no longer a raw new Colony, but a great and prosperous countryÂ â¦
She was as impatient for grandsons as though
had been a kingdom and the DeBretts a royal house whose succession must be assured.
But there were to be no more grandsons for Em. As there had been no more sons. Kendall and Clarissa had died in a car accident, and there was only Eden. Little Eden DeBrett who was such a beautiful child, and whom his grandmother spoiled and adored and loved only one degree less than she loved the land of her adoption.
After Kendall's death there had been another manager, Gus Abbott, who had lived in the bungalow beyond the plumbago hedge for over twenty years, and died in a Mau Mau raid on
in the first months of the Emergency. His place had been taken by a younger man, Mr Gilbraith Markham, and it was Mr Markham's wife Lisa whom Alice had come in search of on this quiet evening: poor, pretty, discontented Lisa, who loved cities and cinemas and gaiety, and who had been so bored by life at
â until the day when she had had the misfortune to fall in love with Eden DeBrett.
Alice pushed open the gate in the plumbago hedge and walked on down the dusty path that wound between clumps of bamboos and flowering shrubs, thinking of Lisa. Of Lisa and EdenÂ â¦
It isn't his fault, thought Eden's wife loyally. It's because he's too good-looking. And just because women throw themselves at his head, and lose their own and make fools of themselves over him, it doesn't mean the heâ She stopped suddenly, with a grimace of distaste. But it was a sound, and not her thoughts that had checked her.
The path had come out on the edge of a wide lawn in front of a green and white bungalow flanked by towering acacia trees, and someone inside the bungalow was playing the piano. Gilly, of course.
Gilly Markham was not a conspicuous success as a farm manager, and many people in the Rift Valley had attributed his appointment to his musical rather than his managerial abilities. For it was an unexpected facet of Lady Emily DeBrett's character that she was intensely and passionately musical, and there was probably some truth in the rumour that she had permitted Gilly Markham's musical talent to influence her judgement when Gus Abbott's death necessitated the appointment of a new manager at
But it was not Gilly's technique that had checked Alice and produced that grimace of distaste. It was the music itself. The Rift Concerto. As if it wasn't enough to hear Em playing it day after day! And now Gilly tooââ!
It had been an Italian prisoner-of-war who had written the Rift Valley Concerto. Guido Toroni. He had been sent to work at
and Em had discovered by chance that he had once been a concert pianist. He had composed the concerto on Em's Bechstein grand, and later, when the war was over, he had gone to America where he had made a name for himself. There he had also made a single long-playing record of the concerto especially for Em, to whom he had sent it as a thank-offering and a memento. Em had been inordinately pleased, and had allowed no one to handle it except herself; but just two weeks previously it had been found smashed into a dozen pieces.
It could not possibly have been an accident. It had been a deliberate and ugly piece of spite that had frightened Alice and infuriated Em. But that had not been the worst of it, for Em had taken to playing the concerto from memory: âso that I shall not forget it'. She had played it again and again during the last two weeks, until the wild, haunting cadences had plucked at Alice's taut nerves and worn them ragged. And now Gilly too was playing it. Playing it as Em played it, with passion and fury. But with a skill and magic that Em's gnarled, spatulate fingers, for all their love, did not possess.