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Praise him! Praise him!
Praise the everlasting King!
Suddenly a young woman detached herself from the crowd and took Matthew's arm. It was Vera. He gazed at her, smiling with relief, remembering how he had first seen her come up to him in the twilight at The Great World just like this.
'Come,' said Dupigny.
It was very dark by the time they reached the aerodrome. They left the car near the entrance, having decided that in order not to attract attention it would be best to complete their journey on foot. It seemed to grow even darker, however, once they were on the airfield itself and they had to grope their way forward with the utmost caution to avoid bomb-craters and other obstacles. This wandering in the blackness seemed to take an age. Once, not far away, they saw a party of men with a powerful torch, also moving across the field. They crouched down and held their breath while the men went by, talking among themselves. It was impossible to tell what language they were speaking. The wavering light of the torch moved on for another hundred yards, then was switched off suddenly. A little later it was switched on again and some distance further away and played for a moment on the shattered barrel of a spiked anti-aircraft gun. Then the torch vanished once more. Matthew, Vera and Dupigny continued their laborious journey. At last they could hear the lapping of the water and a voice spoke to them quietly from the darkness. Matthew answered. It was Major Williams.
'Glad you made it. There are some other people about so we'd better be quiet. They may be j.a.ps or other escapers. You just got here in time, as a matter of fact, because we're about ready to leave. The boat's out here.'
Ahead of them a shaded light appeared for a second or two on a gang-plank. Matthew glimpsed the Australian corporal he had seen that morning with Williams; behind him it was just possible to make out the shadow of a boat against the water. 'Come along, the sooner we shove off the better.'
Matthew and Vera said goodbye to Dupigny and they wished each other luck. They shook hands. Matthew and Vera crossed the gang-plank followed by Williams. Dupigny waited to help them cast off and was just stooping to do so when a powerful beam sprang out of the darkness and played over the launch, then fastened on Dupigny. The figures on the deck froze. The Australian corporal who was holding a lamp switched it on. It illuminated a ragged party of soldiers wearing Australian hats. One of them had a revolver, another a tommy-gun. There were about a dozen of them.
'Sorry, sports, we're taking the boat,' the man with the torch on Dupigny said. 'Hop it.'
n.o.body moved or spoke. Dupigny, however, reached down for the mooring-rope to cast off. There was a shot and he began to hop about like a wounded bird, clutching his leg.
'Why don't you find your own b.l.o.o.d.y boat?' shouted the Australian corporal in a sudden rage.
'Hop it. You, too, cobber.'
'There's nothing for it, I'm afraid,' said Williams. One by one they came back over the gang-plank.
'Right now. Clear off and take him, too, before we do him in.'
They picked up Dupigny who had now fallen over and was struggling to get up again. He said he was not badly hurt but Matthew and Williams had to take his arms over their shoulders and support him; one leg of his cotton drill trousers was already soaked in blood. Speechless with anger and frustration they made their way wearily back across the aerodrome in the darkness.
From elsewhere on the Island other parties bent on escape were also groping about in the darkness. General Gordon Bennett found himself at the docks searching for a boat in which he might sail to Malacca in search of a bigger boat which in turn might carry him to Australia and freedom; he had thought it best not to mention his departure to the GOC and had left an inspiriting order for the Australian troops under his command to remain vigilantly at their posts ... but in the meantime, where was that d.a.m.n boat he needed?
As for Walter, he was making his way along a quay at Telok Ayer Basin where the Nigel Nigel, a handsome motor-yacht, was waiting for him and his companion, W. J. Bowser-Barrington. Poor Bowser-Barrington had fallen some way behind and was gasping under the tarpaulin-wrapped burden he carried on his shoulders. Bowser-Barrington was feeling anything but pleased, for his intention had been that Walter should carry this burden which consisted of his deceased Chairman who, though not a heavy man, was not a light one either. Walter, however, had flatly refused to have anything to do with carrying old Solomon's remains and had even gone so far as to recommend that Bowser-Barrington should simply throw his Chairman away somewhere. This, naturally, was altogether out of the question.
'Well,' thought Bowser-Barrington uneasily as he struggled along the quay in Walter's wake, 'once we're out at sea I'll show him who's boss.' Or rather ... wait. Perhaps that was something he should discuss with the rest of the Board. Might it not be better to wait until they had reached Australia?
'Ahhhh!' He stumbled in the darkness and, as he did so, it was almost as if his Chairman deliberately ground his sharp knee painfully into his ear. But, of course, that was out of the question. 'Where are you, Walter?' he cried feebly into the darkness. 'I say, old boy, please don't leave me!'
Once Dupigny, whose wound fortunately had proved none too serious, had been returned to the Mayfair, Matthew had to consider what to do next. With only a few hours left before the j.a.panese occupation of the city it had become urgent to find a place where Vera might be able to lie low and conceal her ident.i.ty. She needed a Chinese family willing to take the risk of hiding her, but neither Vera nor Matthew knew one. The Major suggested that they should ask Mr Wu. But Mr Wu was nowhere to be found. Either he had managed to escape during the early part of the night or else he, too, in danger as a former officer in the Chinese Air Force, had decided to lie low. Matthew and Vera wasted two precious hours in a vain search for Mr Wu. Such was the confusion in the city that n.o.body knew where anybody might be. As they made their way once again through the city centre Matthew gazed with envy at the troops who had stretched out to sleep on the pavements. By now both he and Vera were too tired to think constructively: they just wandered aimlessly, hand in hand, full of bitterness and discouragement as a result of their abortive attempt to escape and longing to be at peace.
At last, in desperation, they went to visit the tenement where Vera had lived before. The building was half deserted and there was no longer anyone sleeping on the stairs or in the corridors. Evidently many of those who had lived there formerly had moved to kampongs kampongs outside the city to avoid the bombing and sh.e.l.ling. Vera's little cubicle was still as she had left it. Nothing had been touched in her absence. outside the city to avoid the bombing and sh.e.l.ling. Vera's little cubicle was still as she had left it. Nothing had been touched in her absence.
'You can't stay here. Someone in the building would inform on you sooner or later.'
'Where else is there to go?' Vera put a soothing hand on his shoulder. 'They're simple people here. They don't know about what happened in Shanghai.'
'They'll think you're suspicious. They'll have seen you with me.'
'They will just think I'm a prost.i.tute. To them all Englishmen look alike,' she smiled wanly. 'Really, I shall be all right. I have been in a situation like this before.' She shrugged. 'Besides, we have no choice.' After she had rested her head against his shoulder for a little while in silence she said: 'You must go now, Matthew. It would be best if we weren't seen together any more. When you have gone I shall cut my hair and take off these European clothes.'
'Is there nothing else I can do for you? Let me give you some money, though it may no longer be any use once the j.a.panese have taken over. Perhaps it would be best to buy some things tomorrow, then exchange them later when they get rid of our currency.'
Vera nodded and took the money. She began to weep quietly, saying: 'I'm sorry to be like this. I feel so tired, that's all. Tomorrow when I have slept I shall be all right.'
'We'll see each other again, won't we?'
'Yes, one day, certainly,' she agreed.
Early on Tuesday afternoon European civilians were at last marched off to Katong on the first stage of their long journey on foot to internment in Changi gaol. They had been a.s.sembled on the padang padang all morning under the tropical sun. Many of them were already suffering from the heat, weariness and thirst. The Major and Matthew walked one on each side of Dupigny who, despite his injury, insisted on walking by himself. Matthew carried a small bundle of Dupigny's belongings as well as a water bottle and a suitcase of his own. They walked in silence at first. The Major, in addition to his suitcase, carried a folded stretcher they had improvised, lest it should become necessary to carry Dupigny. all morning under the tropical sun. Many of them were already suffering from the heat, weariness and thirst. The Major and Matthew walked one on each side of Dupigny who, despite his injury, insisted on walking by himself. Matthew carried a small bundle of Dupigny's belongings as well as a water bottle and a suitcase of his own. They walked in silence at first. The Major, in addition to his suitcase, carried a folded stretcher they had improvised, lest it should become necessary to carry Dupigny.
The ruined, baking streets stretched interminably ahead. In some of the shops they pa.s.sed Matthew noticed that crude j.a.panese flags had already appeared. Dupigny noticed them, too, and said with a cynical smile: 'Well, Matthew, do you really believe that one day all races will decide to abandon self-interest and live together in harmony?'
'Yes, Francois, one day.'
They struggled on in the heat, stopping now and then to rest for a few moments in whatever shade they could find. Once, while they were resting, an elderly Chinese came out of a shop-house and offered them cigarettes from a round tin of Gold Flake, nodding and smiling at them sympathetically. They thanked him warmly and walked on, feeling encouraged.
The Chinese and Indians who had vanished from the streets after the surrender were beginning cautiously to reappear. By a row of burned-out shop-houses a group of young Indians had gathered to watch the column of Europeans as they straggled by. When Dupigny, limping painfully, came abreast of them they laughed and jeered at him. Delighted, he turned to smile ironically at Matthew.
'One day, Francois.'
They walked on. As time pa.s.sed, Dupigny found it increasingly difficult to keep up with the others. His face was grey now and running with sweat. The Major insisted on having a look at his leg: his wound had opened again and his shoe was full of blood. He told the others to go on without him; he would get a lift from one of the j.a.panese vehicles which occasionally pa.s.sed on the road. But the others considered this too risky. Ignoring his protests the Major unfolded the stretcher and made Dupigny lie down on it. Then he and Matthew picked up the stretcher and they went forward again, leaving their suitcases to volunteers in the column behind them; meanwhile, another volunteer searched through the column for a doctor, but presently he returned saying none could be found: it seemed that the doctors had been detained to look after the wounded in the city. They moved on once more: Dupigny seemed hardly to have the strength to brush the flies from his lips and eyes. They spread a handkerchief over his face to keep off the glare of the sun.
Time pa.s.sed. At last Katong was no longer very far ahead. Dupigny lay with his eyes closed and seemed to be scarcely conscious. Again they pa.s.sed a crowd of jeering Indians. Hearing them, Dupigny opened his eyes for a moment and his mouth twisted into a smile.
In the weeks, then months, then years that followed, first in Changi, later at the Sime Road civilian camp, Matthew found that his world had suddenly shrunk. Accustomed to speculate grandly about the state and fate of nations he now found that his thought were limited to the smallest of matters ... a gla.s.s of water, a pencil, a handful of rice. Hope had deserted him completely. It came as a surprise to him to realize how much he had depended on it before.
In the first weeks after his internment, news began to filter into Changi of ma.s.s executions of Chinese suspected of having helped the British. 'Will all men still be brothers one day, Matthew?' asked Dupigny when he heard about these executions.
'I think so, Francois.' And Matthew shrugged sadly.
'Ah,' said Dupigny.
Many of the Chinese who were killed were towed out to sea in lighters and made to jump overboard, still bound together in twos and three. Others were machine-gunned wholesale on the beaches. According to the rumours which reached the camp, in every part of Singapore where Chinese lived they were forced by the j.a.panese to leave their houses at dawn and paraded in front of hooded informers. Matthew had a chilling vision of the scene ... the hooded man, of whose face nothing could be seen but a glitter of eyes behind the mask, moving like Death along the row of waiting people, without explanation picking out now this person, now that. What chance would Vera have? No wonder hope had deserted him and that he preferred to restrict his thoughts to simple things. A gla.s.s of water, a pencil, a handful of rice.
But then one day in his second year of captivity, while he was out with a working party on the road, a young Chinese brushed up against him and pressed something into his hand. He looked at it surrept.i.tiously: it was a cigarette packet wrapped in a handkerchief. When he opened it he put his head in his hands: it contained a lump of sugar and two cooked white mice. And he thought: 'Well, who knows? At least there's a chance. Perhaps she'll survive after all, and so will I.'
But more years pa.s.s and yet more. Let us suppose that Kate Blackett, now a woman with grown-up children of her own, is sitting at her breakfast-table in a quiet street in Bayswater. Kate has a pleasant, kindly, humorous look (as characters tend to have when their author treats them well) and this is an agreeable room she is having breakfast in: on the wall there is a charming painting by Patricia Moynagh of a curled-up cat, and a delightful, serene painting by Mary Newcomb of several people standing on a ferry, and another of a dog peacefully asleep surrounded by red flowers. Through the window, from where she is sitting, there is a glimpse of garden in which a cat is trying to catch b.u.t.terflies ... Or rather, no. Let us suppose that it is winter. Rub out the cat, erase the b.u.t.terflies and let us move back inside where it is warmer.
Opposite Kate at the table is a man reading The Times The Times for 10 December 1976. Kate can see nothing of this man (her husband, let us hope) but some grey hair on top of his head and two hands holding up the newspaper. Does he wear gla.s.ses? It is impossible to say. His face is hidden by the newspaper. The fingers which are holding it are long and slender and he is wearing a green sweater ... (we can see part of its sleeve) and that is all there will be of him until he decides to put down the newspaper. Well, not quite all, however, for presently he speaks to Kate with a slight drawl. An Australian perhaps? From his voice he could be English, though, or even an American who has lived a long time in England. Perhaps, then, Kate has married Ehrendorf, that incorrigible Anglophile, who has at last come to his senses and realized which was the most attractive of the Blackett girls. for 10 December 1976. Kate can see nothing of this man (her husband, let us hope) but some grey hair on top of his head and two hands holding up the newspaper. Does he wear gla.s.ses? It is impossible to say. His face is hidden by the newspaper. The fingers which are holding it are long and slender and he is wearing a green sweater ... (we can see part of its sleeve) and that is all there will be of him until he decides to put down the newspaper. Well, not quite all, however, for presently he speaks to Kate with a slight drawl. An Australian perhaps? From his voice he could be English, though, or even an American who has lived a long time in England. Perhaps, then, Kate has married Ehrendorf, that incorrigible Anglophile, who has at last come to his senses and realized which was the most attractive of the Blackett girls.
'Listen to this, Kate,' he says. 'Here's something that might interest a rubber tyc.o.o.n's daughter: "Plantation work pays less than one dollar a day." From Our Correspondent, Geneva, 9 December. "Millions of workers on rubber, sugar, tea, cotton or coffee plantations are earning less than $1 (62p) a day, according to the International Labour Office." Let me see, what else does it say? Trade union rights ... et cetera ... malnutrition ... disease .. Yes ... "Many migrant workers on rubber or sugar plantations live in conditions of acute overcrowding. Sometimes there are up to 100 workers in one large room." Daily wage rates ... And so on. There.'
Kate looks around the room vaguely but says nothing. Singapore seems very far away to her now, and no longer quite real ... a magical place where she spent her childhood. Why, Malaya is no longer even called Malaya. Things that once seemed immutable have turned out to be remarkably vulnerable to change.
Or have they? That man behind the newspaper, if it were Ehrendorf, let us say, and if he happened to remember his arguments of years ago with Matthew about colonialism and tropical agriculture, might he not, as his eye was caught by that headline 'Plantation work pays less than one dollar a day', have said to himself that nothing very much had changed, after all, despite that tremendous upheaval in the Far East? That if even after independence in these Third World countries, it is still still like that, then something has gone wrong, that some other, perhaps native, elite has merely replaced the British? If it like that, then something has gone wrong, that some other, perhaps native, elite has merely replaced the British? If it were were Ehrendorf might he not have recalled that remark of Adamson's (pa.s.sed on to him by Matthew) about King William and the boatman who asked who had won the battle ('What's it to you? You'll still be a boatman.')? Ehrendorf might he not have recalled that remark of Adamson's (pa.s.sed on to him by Matthew) about King William and the boatman who asked who had won the battle ('What's it to you? You'll still be a boatman.')?
But Ehrendorf, with his good manners, would surely have put down the newspapers by now or would at least have given part of it to Kate to read. Instead of which this individual has by now moved on to read about some other matter in some other part of the world, leaving Kate to gaze out of the window at the garden where it is suddenly summer again and a cat is trying to catch a b.u.t.terfly. In any case ...
In any case, there is really nothing more to be said. And so, if you have been reading in a deck-chair on the lawn, it is time to go inside and make the tea. And if you have been reading in bed, why, it is time to put out the light now and go to sleep. Tomorrow is another day, as they say, as they say.
Among those works listed below which have been most valuable in this attempt to recreate the Far East of forty years ago I am particularly indebted to Professor P. T. Bauer's work on the rubber industry and especially to his cla.s.sic report on smallholdings prepared for the Colonial Office in 1946 which, with J. S. Furnivall's Colonial Policy and Practice Colonial Policy and Practice, first suggested to me another angle from which to consider the British Empire. The pa.s.sage from The Planter The Planter in 1930 read by Matthew in the dying-house is quoted in Bauer, in 1930 read by Matthew in the dying-house is quoted in Bauer, The Rubber Industry The Rubber Industry, p. 285. R. C. H. MacKie's This Was Singapore This Was Singapore, the most evocative description of Singapore between the wars, also exerted a considerable influence on certain scenes. For Chinese love terminology I have relied chiefly on the fascinating Yin Yang, The Chinese Way of Love Yin Yang, The Chinese Way of Love by Charles Humana and w.a.n.g Wu, though here and there I have been unable to resist taking a hand in it myself. Finally, no one could consider writing about the military campaign without making use of the outstanding work of the official historian, the late Major-General S. Woodburn Kirby. by Charles Humana and w.a.n.g Wu, though here and there I have been unable to resist taking a hand in it myself. Finally, no one could consider writing about the military campaign without making use of the outstanding work of the official historian, the late Major-General S. Woodburn Kirby.
Books apart, I am grateful to old Singapore hands, particularly Mrs Enid Sutton and Mr Richard Phelps, who have enlightened me about life there in those days, as well as to those inhabitants of modern Singapore who gave me their hospitality and help, especially Mr Nick Bridge of the New Zealand High Commission, and Mr Donald Moore. I would also like to thank: Mr Lacy Wright and Miss The-anh Cao who kindly showed me Saigon in the last few weeks before it became 'Ho Chi Minh City', Mr Ian Angus of King's College Library, London, my brother, Robert Farrell, of the University of Victoria Library, a constant source of good ideas and information, and Giorgio and Ginevra Agamben, from whom I first heard of the 'Singapore Grip'. Lastly, without a generous contribution from Booker McConnell Ltd for an earlier novel it would have been financially difficult for me to write this one.
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The author and publishers are grateful to the following sources: Constable & Co. Ltd for permission to quote from 170 Chinese Poems 170 Chinese Poems translated by Arthur Waley; Eyre & Spottiswoode for permission to quote an extract from translated by Arthur Waley; Eyre & Spottiswoode for permission to quote an extract from The War in Malaya The War in Malaya by A. E. Percival; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. for permission to quote from the MGM release by A. E. Percival; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. for permission to quote from the MGM release The Ziegfeld Girl The Ziegfeld Girl 1941 Loew's Incorporated. Copyright renewed in 1967 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc.; and Leo Feist Inc. for permission to quote from three songs: 'You Stepped out of a Dream' by N. H. Brown and G. Khan 1940 renewed 1968 MGM Inc., all rights administered by Leo Feist Inc.; 'Minnie from Trinidad' by R. Edens 1941 renewed 1969 Leo Feist Inc.; and 'Caribbean Love Song' by R. Edens and R. Freed 1941 renewed 1969 Leo Feist Inc.; to EMI Music Publishing Ltd for permission to quote an extract from 'A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square' by Eric Maschwitz, 1940 Peter Maurice Music Co. Ltd. 1941 Loew's Incorporated. Copyright renewed in 1967 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc.; and Leo Feist Inc. for permission to quote from three songs: 'You Stepped out of a Dream' by N. H. Brown and G. Khan 1940 renewed 1968 MGM Inc., all rights administered by Leo Feist Inc.; 'Minnie from Trinidad' by R. Edens 1941 renewed 1969 Leo Feist Inc.; and 'Caribbean Love Song' by R. Edens and R. Freed 1941 renewed 1969 Leo Feist Inc.; to EMI Music Publishing Ltd for permission to quote an extract from 'A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square' by Eric Maschwitz, 1940 Peter Maurice Music Co. Ltd.