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If the Invader Comes

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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      If the Invader Comes
Derek Beaven

A critically acclaimed, Booker long-listed novel that is reminiscent of Pat Barker’s ‘Regeneration Trilogy’.Clarice Pike and Vic Warren are from completely different backgrounds. An impossible affair has already driven them thousands of miles apart. 1939 finds Clarice in Malaya where her father is an obscure company doctor, and Vic in East London, an unemployed shipwright badly married to Phylis, Clarice’s cousin. As their feelings conspire to draw the lovers back together, the world erupts with a terrible violence. It is the relentlessness of male brutality that forces Vic to grope towards what real manhood might be.‘If the Invader Comes’ combines themes from Derek Beaven’s previously acclaimed ‘Newton’s Niece’ and ‘Acts of Mutiny’ to portray a wartime England where human relationships are threatened as much from within the family as from occupied Europe. Exciting, moving and ultimately optimistic, Derek Beaven’s new novel represents a daring leap in British fiction.

If the Invader Comes

Derek Beaven

Dedication (#)

For Peter

If the Invader Comes is a work of fiction. Except for historical figures, all its characters are imaginary, and their names were chosen for no other reason than euphony.

Contents

Cover (#u1e5a0c18-1FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)

Title Page (#u1e5a0c18-2FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)

Dedication (#u1e5a0c18-3FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)

I A Contract (#u1e5a0c18-5FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)

II People and Property (#u1e5a0c18-6FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)

III The Borderland (#litres_trial_promo)

IV A Secret America of the Heart (#litres_trial_promo)

V The Tempter (#litres_trial_promo)

VI The Comforter (#litres_trial_promo)

VII Remedy (#litres_trial_promo)

Acknowledgements (#litres_trial_promo)

About the Author (#litres_trial_promo)

Also by the Author (#litres_trial_promo)

Copyright (#litres_trial_promo)

About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo)

I A Contract (#)

IT OPENS IN paradise, with my great-uncle. He was woken by a thud from the ceiling directly over his head, followed by a flurry of squeals, as the little cobra that seemed to have got into the roof caught another rat. In the darkness of the bedroom, Dr Wulfstan Pike lay under his mosquito net and listened to the drench hitting the bungalow thatch and the cascade of rivulets from the eaves on to the garden outside his window. He could distinguish, too, the pelt of huge globes of water into the puddles in the compound. The steamy rot smell from the old carpet mingled with the flavour of his own sweat.

He felt under the sheet for the woman lying at his side. Selama stirred in her sleep and turned over towards him; his palm traced the child-stretched skin of her belly to rest on the prominence of her hip. He smoothed the curve to her waist, and, as he bent his head near her hair on the pillow, he caught both the savour of the food she prepared, and the deeper note of her body’s secretions. The spicy confluence in his nostrils was so tender that he woke her with his kisses.

Later, they slept until dawn. When he got up, he felt confident, as if the world these last two weeks really had not been shifting under his feet. Outside, on the veranda, the view towards the coast showed each leaf for miles rinsed and urgently viridescent. The huge sky was mottled with pearl.

He stood, taking it in, still hardly believing after so many years the sublimity that lay around him – until a waft of fresh coffee announced that Musa, the kuki, was up and doing. A queue of patients had already begun to form on the other side of the front steps.

The coffee pot, on its Chinese tray, had been served neatly to the sideboard in the dining-room. Dr Pike took his cup and clomped in his boots and dressing-gown to the teak table. Its top was completely covered with cut-out newspaper stories; but as if they were no more than a scrapbook in process he was at pains not to notice them.

Most mornings Selama sent the cook, Musa, off to do housework or buy groceries, and made breakfast herself in an old shirt she’d taken a fancy to, a frayed blue one with cooking splashes down the front. Most mornings during the last fortnight she had begun the meal by objecting to Dr Pike’s mess of papers all over the breakfast table.

Today, however, she wore the red kimono he’d bought her once in Kuala Lumpur. And, seeing her like that, he wished he could hold time still with Selama sitting opposite him just as she was, her brown eyes looking up for a second, her quick smile showing the missing front tooth, and her fine, slightly greying hair spilling down on to red silk.

Isolated words from the expanse of print caught his attention: Blitzkrieg, cathedral, armour-piercing, Bydgoszcz. They flicked up at him with venom. He felt Selama watching him. She guessed exactly what was in his heart – of that he was certain. She knew he thought of quitting Malaya, of simply failing to return from his next leave. Part of him wished they could discuss his dilemma, another was relieved they never did. She knew he could never take her with him.

Neither spoke over a breakfast of last night’s rice pancakes, heated up again and buttered. When they’d finished, he rose and went to kiss her cheek. ‘Dear, you know how I need you.’

‘I know and I don’t know.’

‘You know.’ In the haven of her neck, breathing her, he was overcome.

‘No, Stan.’ She stood up, crossly, and rearranged her lapel. ‘Haven’t you got patients to see?’

My great-uncle sighed. Taking his quinine from the sideboard, he went to get dressed.

As always, he stood in front of the long mirror in his wardrobe door. It showed nothing youthful, nor romantic; merely an ample, red-and-white Englishman with grizzled body hair. He was no more than his reflection, and age had caught up with him.

How strange not to notice. Sag had occurred in several regions quite recently taut. And how thoroughly bald he’d grown. Only the eyebrows and moustache appeared to flourish, sprouting ever whiter and more luxuriant. Wrinkles he’d rather thought of as charm were bunched under the pale blue eyes. Surely his nose had enlarged while he slept. The jowls, simian; the ears, elephantine – it all added up to little more than roguishness.

The amah, the Chinese woman who’d first looked after his daughter and still remained with the household, had left a jug of tepid water on the bedroom floor. A large enamelled tin bowl was the apparatus he generally used for washing his privates. Planting his feet either side of it, he would lower himself on to its rims and then work up a good lather by the action of his hands, diving all about, leaving no crevice of his life unexamined. But for some reason this morning found him too picturesque for his own good and he left the mirror. He went instead to the little bathroom which adjoined, in order to sluice himself from the monumental earthenware jar kept permanently there. The cool water slipped deliciously from his back and belly and disappeared through the slats in the floor.

As he returned, dripping, to rummage in a drawer for underwear, Selama knocked at the door. ‘Stan! What’re you doing? It’s getting late. Are you lazy?’

‘Just thinking.’

‘You think too much.’

Dr Pike’s old thatched bungalow was on stilts. Standing next to the bedroom window as he hauled on his khaki shorts and snapped his braces over his shoulders, he looked down on smiling faces. A child waved. He recognised her. Under his care, she’d recovered from a paralysis, which the mother had insisted was caused by an ill-wisher. On such matters he kept an open mind, for he’d proved the abracadabra of medicine himself, countless times. The body might be decently addressed with an instruction to heal – and quite often it really would, throwing off even the most tenacious bug. Therefore, he allowed, in wickedness it could be told to become sick, and might comply.

Shaving, he reminded himself that his daughter, Clarice, was arriving at teatime.

‘They’re waiting for you. Hurry up, dear!’

‘All right, woman! D’you want to make a chap cut his bloody throat.’

HE LEFT THE bedroom as soon as he’d finished, and carried the little desk and cane chair out from the study to the veranda. There he called up the first patient to stand before him, and without more ado began examining the sore in a plantation worker’s leg. With its ring of ooze, it was a bad wound to come across first thing. It lay beside the shin-bone, an obscene, pointless crater in the structures just below the knee.

In fact, his head swam at the sight of it. He actually felt as though he were going to pass out – something that hadn’t happened since the day Clarice broke her arm. That had been on her seventh birthday, in England. His pale daughter had stood before him holding the shocking misalignment with her good hand and he’d fainted against the bookcase corner, the one by the door in the Suffolk house, and almost knocked himself out. Little use it would have been then to her, having a doctor for a father. All at once the plantation worker’s lesion meant nothing to him. His brain refused to focus, and he lacked any notion of the routine treatment called for. The only thing he could sense was that the sufferer seemed unusually sullen and unco-operative.

Dr Pike was an intuitive. As a healer, he relied on the inner ‘click’ – that moment when body responded to body – by which he’d know how to begin. Just now, its absence was unnerving, and, while the sweat broke out on his brow, his skin grew incomprehensibly cold. The sore mocked him. It threatened to widen and erupt before his eyes. He felt his other patients waiting, watching from the garden. A fly settled on the raw flesh; a couple more. His relationship with Selama was racially illicit. It was September 1939. The paradise was altering around him.

There had once gone out in that world an imperial edict, the Concubine Circular. After its issue, ‘native women’ had become less and less permissible in a government or company bungalow, no matter how unpretentious. While new men sat at the famous long bar at the club in Seremban, older Malaya hands would describe the passing of the Romance of the Orient. Before the Great War, most white officials had Malayan mistresses; the practice had been so ordinary as to be beyond comment.

Nowadays, men brought out their wives from England. There were roads, cars, telephones. Among the English there was a polite society of sorts, an urban sentiment, and with it a heightened racial feeling, for white women looked on the natives as unfair competition. Dr Pike brushed the flies away. The accumulation of fester was already dangerous. Tentatively, he began cleaning the mess with a spirit swab, trying to gather his wits.

He hadn’t set out to take up with a Malayan woman – nor was he the typical imperial servant I might already have led you to suspect. He’d left England in desperation because his young wife Mattie’s family couldn’t be trusted, and would never suffer her to be free of them. From London the couple’s first escape had been to East Anglia with the child, Clarice. When Suffolk failed to lighten the marriage, my great-uncle had prescribed this more drastic relocation and trained for the tropics. But Mattie had taken sick: of climate, of separation from home, of jungle fever or falling fever, or perhaps wilfully of some yet-to-be-identified complaint.

He and Selama had met at the cottage hospital. A ward sister, she had been recently widowed. In the way of doctors and nurses, they’d worked together over a period, brought close by several problem cases and their shared determination not to give up on them. Gradually, they’d become attracted enough to risk love. Both had been gratified. He’d immediately found a happiness, which had lasted.

But their liaison broke rules and crossed boundaries. Even after Mattie died, they thought of themselves as an embarrassing throwback, a white man and his ‘keep’. They were inadmissible among either his or her people, tolerated only so long as they kept on the very edge of society.

Now his daughter was a grown woman, and only last month a Mrs Christopher, a Perak District Officer’s wife en route northward through Seremban, had sent in a complaint about him: that Dr Pike’s liaison made his daughter’s social position impossible. Everybody knew about it except the girl herself. The plantation worker flinched at the swab’s touch. There was a dull hatred in his eyes, as if this tuan doktor were cause rather than cure. Dr Pike pressed into the weeping tissue, trying to do the right thing. Or was even this called in question, he asked himself? Had one person ever the right to intervene in the condition of another? It was his duty, surely, at least to clean up the damage. The man groaned and muttered through clenched teeth.

A whole region of clotted blood and pus finally came away. In the exposed corner of the sore, just under a film of partially healed skin, Dr Pike spotted a blue-grey shape, like a gaping comma, sharply defined. He stared at it in surprise. It was the head of something. ‘There’s a good chap,’ he told his patient. ‘You’ve been very brave.’

He finished off with the swab and rinsed his hands. Then, as if the treatment were complete, he prepared a fold of powder at his desk. ‘I’d like you to take this, three times a day after meals.’ He repeated the formula in his best Tamil, and handed over the paper.

The patient relaxed, visibly.

‘Oh. One thing. Sit down here.’ He stood up, and gestured to his own chair.
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