Authors: M. M. Kaye
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who once told me that
on a clear day, from a
certain hillside above the
road to Simla, one could âsee
Having finally got down to writing my autobiography instead of thinking about doing so, and managing to complete the first volume, I imagined that writing the next one would be a piece of cake. After all, it was not as though I had to invent characters or worry about a plot, as one had to with novels. This was just remembering the past and writing it down as it happened. Simple.
Sadly I had omitted to make any allowance for advancing years and what they can do to you. I had managed to keep arthritis within bounds if not at bay, but angina at its nastiest was a bolt from the blue, and meant that Volume 2 of
Share of Summer
had to be put on hold for several years. When at last I started to write again it was only because I knew that if I once said: âI can't do it,' I would never be able to write again. So I made myself a solemn promise to write something every day, even if it was only a line. Even if I knew that I would rub it out next day! Anything â
â that would keep the book inching forward.
I kept that promise faithfully. But the result was, to say the least of it, entirely unexpected, for when at last I was able to say (as I handed the final chapter to Margaret, the noble girl who manages with the aid of a word processor to make sense out of my sheaves of pencilled foolscap) âWell, that's Volume Two finished,' she replied with some asperity: âYou mean Volumes Two and Three; you can't
compress this lot into a single book. Have you any
how much you have written?'
Well, I hadn't, of course. And Margaret was right again when I protested that it wouldn't cut in half successfully, and she pointed out that on the contrary, it would cut very neatly â where Tacklow
decides to take himself and his family off to China. It did. Which is how I found myself in the curious position of someone who has written an entire book by mistake; practically a candidate for the
Guinness Book of Records.
And now I come to think of it, any reader who has not read
The Sun in the Morning
will have no idea what I am doing on an Italian passenger ship,
across the Indian Ocean to North China. Why China of all places? Well, anyone who has read either of the two previous volumes will know, and can skip the rest of this preface, which I will try to make as short as possibleÂ â¦
My dearly loved father, having retired with a knighthood after a term of years as Director of Central Intelligence, had been recalled by the Government of India to revise Aitcheson's Treaties â treaties that had been made back in the previous century between Britain and the princely states of India. When that job was completed he had been urged by the ruler of Tonk to stay on as his President of the Council of State. I don't think my father had any desire to do so. But since Mother, my sister Bets and myself were all for it, and he could never refuse Mother anything that was in his power to give her, he accepted; and at first everything went like a marriage bell. But alas, the old Nawab died and the whole thing fell apart in an incredible welter of lies and palace intrigue that ended in darling Tacklow being dismissed in the shabbiest manner by the Nawab's successor.
Convinced that after a long and distinguished career he had been publicly disgraced, he planned a second retirement. Not to England this time, but to China. Which was something he had always dreamed of doing because, long ago in the dawn of the twentieth century, his regiment, the 21st Punjabis, had been sent to China to help clear up the shambles that had been made in that land by the Boxer Rising.
Since he happened to be a language buff â he spoke nine major languages and seventeen dialects, Mandarin and Cantonese among them â he was immediately at home and at ease in China and with the Chinese. He fell in love with the country from the moment he set foot on it. And with my mother the moment he first saw her, on the Tientsin railway station platform. Her father, known to the family as âthe Grand-dadski', was a Scottish missionary, and Tacklow had a hard time getting himself accepted as a son-in-law. It took him the best part of three years, but he won her at last and they were married and spent a halcyon honeymoon in Pei-tai-ho, a little seaside town on the Gulf of Pei-chih-li. It was the happiest time of his life, and when he talked to me of China it was always as though he was remembering paradise. As for Mother, he adored her to the end of his days.
That was why, when he had been so bitterly hurt by the dÃ©bÃ¢cle of Tonk, he felt, like Tennyson's King Arthur, that if he could go back there, back to that almost legendary land in which he had found such happiness, he could forget the bitter wound that India had dealt him. Hence the SS
Conte Rosso, en route
to the Far East.
China: Spring 1932
was one of an Italian line of passenger ships that plied between Genoa and the Orient, and though in the interests of economy Tacklow
had booked us to travel Tourist Class, we ended up travelling in great luxury in first class. For which we had to thank the fact that in those far-off times anyone who had a handle to their name â particularly a British one â was automatically a âMilord'. And, naturally, all Milords must be rich.
This drew attention to the fact that Tacklow and his family were travelling ârough' and the Captain was curious. He went out of his way to be gracious to Tacklow and, on discovering that he spoke Italian with great fluency, leapt to the conclusion that he must have been born and brought up in that country.
Tacklow disabused him of this idea, but in the course of conversation mentioned an old friend of his, an Englishman named Wyatt who during the First World War had served as a liaison officer, or something of that sort, with the Italian army, and been so taken with the country and its people that he had retired there and become a citizen.
Well, we all know that it's a small world, so you will not be too surprised to learn that the Captain's home town was the one in which Commendatore Wyatt had settled, and that the two were old friends. And, since the ship happened to be half empty, the Captain insisted on moving us up to two vacant first class cabins. The Italian-speaking members of the crew took Tacklow to their bosoms, and for the remainder of that voyage we were treated like royalty.
It was a marvellous voyage, for since my sister Bets
had just become engaged to a young man in Burma-Shell's India section, I was secure in the knowledge that with Bets's future decided, even if my parents did decide to settle in China, there would always be somewhere in India that I could return to; because Bets would be there. Without that comfortable assurance this would have been just another voyage into exile. But as it was I could sit back and enjoy myself.
I find it odd now that it never once occurred to me that although I knew I could always count on a welcome from Bets, her husband might be less welcoming. So, freed from the dreary prospect of yet another period of exile that could, this time, possibly be permanent, I was free to enjoy to the full the experience of travelling in luxury on a âslow boat to China'. And this time, thank heaven, I was not seasick, not for a single hour.
loafed across blue seas under cloudless skies, escorted by teams of dolphins and attended by the occasional sea bird. The seas we sailed on were still unpolluted, and the water so clear that every jellyfish or basking shark showed up as though it were embedded in glass. I was no stranger to sea voyages, and had on several occasions seen the white fountains thrown up by spouting whales. But I had never before seen them from so close; whole families of them. So very many that it does not seem possible that, in the years since then, those huge, harmless leviathans have become an endangered species, hunted to the verge of extinction.
For the first few days of the voyage we saw no sign of another ship, and no glimpses of land. Nothing but leagues of empty ocean rimmed by a seemingly endless horizon; until suddenly the empty world became sprinkled with islands. Hundreds of them. Tiny, romantic patches of dense greenery fringed by white beaches and encircled by opal-coloured lagoons, most of them apparently uninhabited and all of them, seen from the sea, unbelievably beautiful. I think now that they must have been either the Andamans or the Nicobar Islands, and I remember them as pure magic â the coral islands of story and legend. Once in the Straits of Malacca we saw more land and more ships, then another flurry of islands and we were docking at Singapore.