And so, a few hours later, into the sea dropped the great red yo-yo sun and darkness painted out the waters of the bay at Aberdeen Harbour. Then lights began to show, first the pricking lights under the ramparts they stood on, then more nebulous lights from boats knocking together where the fishermen lived in houses on stilts, then the lights of moving boats fanning white on black across the bay and then across far away bays and coastlines of the archipelago; lights of ferries, coloured lights of invisible villages and way over to the south dim lights staining the darkness of Hong Kong itself.
Edward Feathers and Betty Macintosh stood side by side, looking out and a drum began to beat. Voices rose in a screech, like a sun-set chorus of raucous birds. Cantonese and half a dozen dialects. The crashing of pots and pans, clattering pandemonium. Blue smoke rose up from the boats to the terrace of the hotel and there was a blasting smell of hot fish. Behind the couple standing looking out, waiters were beginning to spread tablecloths and napkins, setting down saucers with floating lights and flowers. The last suggestion of a sun departed and the sky was speckled with a hundred million stars.
"Edward? Teddie yes. Thank you. Yes. I will and I will and I will, but could you say something?"
Some of the older waiters would respond to Elisabeth's voice in the slow English of before the war. It was beginning to sound old world. Proud, unflinching, Colonial. Yet the girl did not conform to it. She was bare-legged, in open-toed sandals with clean but unpainted toe-nails. She was wearing a cotton dress she had had for years and hadn't thought about changing to meet her future husband. The time in the Shanghai detention centre had arrested her looks rather than matured her and she would still have been recognised by her old first-eleven hockey team. Edward looked down at the top of her curly head, rather the colour of his own. "Chestnut", they call it. Conker-colour. Red. Our children are bound to have red hair. Red hair fascinates and frightens the Chinese. They'll have to go home to England if we settle here. If we can have
She said, "Edward? Please? I'm sorry I've taken so long, but I never change my mind." At last then he embraced her.
"We must get back," he said, and on the ferry again across the harbour they sat close together but not touching on a slatted seat. Nearby sat a fat young Englishman who was being stroked and sighed over by a Chinese girl with a yearning face. She was plump and pale gazing up at him, whispering to him, kissing him all the time below the ear. He flicked at the ear now and then as if there were a fly about, but he was smiling. The ferry chugged and splashed. The Englishman looked proud and content. "She's a great cook, too," he called in their direction. "She can do a great mashed potato. It's not all that rice."
At Kowloon-side Edward and Elisabeth walked a foot or so apart to his hotel, climbed the marble steps and passed through the flashing glass doors. Inside among the marble columns and the lilies and the fountains Edward lifted a finger towards the reception desk and his room-key was brought across to him.
"There's a party now."
"Now. Here. It's tomorrow's judge. It's going to be a long case and he's a benevolent old stick. He likes to kick off with a party. Both sides invited. Leaders, juniors, wives, girl-friends, fiancees. And courtesans for flavour."
"Must we go?"
"Yes. I don't much want to, but you don't refuse."
When he looked down at her she saw how happy he was.
"Have I time to change?"
"No. It will have begun. We'll just show our faces. Your clothes are fine. I have something for you to wear as it happens. I'll go up and get myself a jacket and I'll bring it down."
"Shall I come up to the room with you?"
Excerpted from The Man in the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam. Copyright © 2009 by Jane Gardam. Excerpted by permission of Europa Editions. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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