Authors: M. M. Kaye
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In the early years of the 1950s there used to be a B.B.C. Radio programme called âHousewives' Choice', which consisted of popular records â in those days, presumably 78s? â that provided a pleasant accompaniment to tedious and repetitive chores. Any tune in the Top Twenty got played fairly frequently, and one in particular caught my fancy: the first line of the refrain being âThen I'll go sailing far â off to Zanzibar!'
Since I myself was in the all-too-familiar position of a British Army wife â abandoned, with my two small daughters, in depressing Army quarters in a small garrison town while my husband and his regiment were on active service somewhere on the other side of the world (on this occasion, Korea!) â I would have given a great deal to go âsailing far', to almost anywhere. But Zanzibar is one of those names that possess a peculiar, singing magic in every syllable; like Samarkand or Rajasthan, or Kilimanjaro; and when the radio was not playing that song I used to sing it to myself, and like Dany in this story, I read anything I could get hold of on the subject of Zanzibar: never dreaming that I would ever see it myself.
Then, when my husband was almost due back in England, his regiment, while
for home, was suddenly diverted to Kenya. And since families were allowed to go out there to join their husbands and fathers, it was not long before the children and I were setting off to Nairobi on a flight that nowadays would only take a few hours, but which in those days, as in this story, took well over twenty-four.
It was during our time in Kenya that I got the chance to visit Zanzibar. And I fell in love with it at first sight, for it turned out to be one of those rare places that live up to everything one has hoped and dreamed that they would be. I also had the honour of meeting its greatly respected and much-loved old Sultan, His Highness Seyyid Khalifa bin Harub: grandson of Thuwani of Muscat and Oman â who was a half-brother of the two successive Sultans of Zanzibar, Majid and Bargash, about whom I wrote in a historical novel,
which tells the story of Tyson Frost's grandfather, Rory â Emory Tyson Frost of
Since my husband kept being posted to all sorts of novel and entertaining places, I wrote a âwhodunit' set in each of them. Because of this, I made detailed notes of things I was afraid I might forget. So that when, several years later, I got around to writing this story, all I had to do was to hunt up my Zanzibar notebook, and there it all was. An exact description of everything I could possibly need, down to the advertisement painted on looking-glass in the Mombasa Airport, and the millipede crawling across the floor of the tiny, makeshift one on Pemba.
The Zanzibar I knew has gone for ever, and this book is already a âperiod piece' â almost a historical novel, so much has changed. But at least I saw it, and lived in it for a brief while, and it is stored away in my mind for ever.
The heavy brocade curtains stirred as though they had been blown by a breath of wind, and a billowing fold touched the corner of the dressing-table and overset a small bottle of nail varnish.
It was a very slight sound, but it woke Dany; jerking her out of an uneasy dream in which she had been hurrying down a long lonely country road in the sad fog and drizzle of an early autumn, clutching a small sealed envelope and listening to the drip of rain off the unseen hedges and the footsteps of someone who followed close behind her.
She had caught brief glimpses of this person when she stopped and turned, and once it had been Mr Honeywood with his narrow, dry, solicitor's face and his small dry disapproving cough, and sometimes it had been a large hearty woman in tweeds, striding through the wet mist, or an Oriental; a dark-faced man wearing flowing white robes and a fez â or was it a turban? But none of them had any right to be following her, and she dare not let them overtake her. It was vitally important that they should not overtake herÂ â¦
The bottle fell over and Dany awoke.
She sat up in bed shivering in the aftermath of nightmare, and was momentarily surprised to find herself in an unfamiliar room. Then the dream receded, and she remembered that she was no longer in her great-aunt's house, but at the Airlane Hotel in London.
Yesterday, in Market-Lydon, it had been misty and damp; as though autumn were already far advanced. But here in London on this September morning it still seemed to be high summer, and although it was very early and the city was as yet barely astir, the sky beyond the open window was clear and bright.
The curtains that had been closely drawn last night were now partially open, and the pale light of early morning, filtering into the room, showed a clutter of cardboard boxes, air-weight suitcases, tissue paper, and the new lizard-skin bag that was Great-aunt Harriet's parting present and which contained, among other things, a brand new passport.
Dany had checked over all the impedimenta of foreign travel late last night, and now all she had left to do was to buy a beach hat, a sun-suit and something for air sickness, and to introduce herself to her step-father's sister, Mrs Bingham, whom she had so far never met but who had been staying since yesterday in the same hotel and was also travelling out to Zanzibar on a Zero Zephyr of the Green Zero Line.
London, Naples, Khartoum, Nairobi. Mombasa, Tanga, Pemba, Zanzibar
Dany shivered again. A shiver of pure delight that ended unexpectedly in a quiver of unease: a sense of disquiet so sharply urgent that she turned quickly, half expecting to find someone standing behind her. But nothing moved except the curtains billowing idly in the dawn wind, and of course there was no one there. And no one watching her! It was only the effect of that silly dream about people following herÂ â¦
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
Dany Ashton had left school almost a year ago, but this was her first taste of freedom, for despite the fact that, as her mother's daughter, she might have been expected to have led an erratic and entertaining existence, her life had hitherto been a remarkably sheltered one. Her mother, currently Lorraine Frost, was a notable beauty who collected and discarded husbands in a manner that would have done credit to a film star, and Dany, her only child, was the daughter of her first husband, Daniel Ashton.
Lorraine had never been maternally minded, and Daniel Ashton, explorer and big-game hunter, had been more interested in such things as the Lesser Kudu and the upper reaches of the Amazon than in fatherhood. He had met his death at the hands of an unenlightened and excitable tribe of South-American Indians when Dany was three years old, and Lorraine had promptly married Dwight Cleethorpe, an affable millionaire from Chicago, and handed her small daughter over to the care of a maiden aunt, Harriet Henderson.
Mr Cleethorpe, whose hobbies were golf and deep-sea fishing, had not lasted, and there had been three more step-fathers in rapid succession, the latest of whom was Tyson Frost, the novelist. But none of them had taken more than a passing interest in their step-daughter, and Lorraine's visits, though exhilarating, were always brief and did little to disturb the even tenor of life at
the large red-brick house in Hampshire where Dany's Great-aunt Harriet lived in cosy Edwardian seclusion while the world passed her by.
Great-aunt Harriet disapproved of Progress and the Post-War World. She had also disapproved strongly of this visit to Zanzibar, but had been unable to prevent it since she was not the child's legal guardian, and moreover her great-niece had suddenly displayed an unsuspected streak of independence.
Dany had been wildly delighted at the prospect of going to this outlandish spot where Tyson Frost owned a house, and she had not only paid no attention at all to her great-aunt's warnings, but had flatly refused to spend the three nights in London under the roof of an elderly relative, or to be accompanied there by Twisdon, Great-aunt Harriet's austere and aged maid.
Chaperones, declared Dany, were as dead as the Dodo, and she was perfectly capable of looking after herself: or if she were not, the sooner she started learning, the better. In any case, Lorraine had advised her to stay at the Airlane, as there would be half a dozen other people there who were also bound for Zanzibar and the house-party at
and who would be travelling on the same plane. Her fellow-guests were Tyson's sister, Augusta Bingham and her friend and companion, Miss Bates; the Marchese di Chiago, who raced (but whether horses, dogs, cars or yachts was not disclosed); Amalfi Gordon, a close friend of Lorraine's, and her fiancÃ© Mr Holden â American and something to do with publishing â who intended to get married on the eve of departure and thereby combine business (discussing terms for a new Tyson Frost novel) with pleasure in the form of a honeymoon in Zanzibar. And finally, Mr Holden's secretary, Miss Kitchell. One or any of these people, wrote Lorraine airily, would be sure to keep an eye on Dany.
âIf she means Mrs Bingham or Miss Bates, then possibly they will do so,' said Aunt Harriet, frigid with disapproval. âBut what if it should be this Marchese? I cannot think what has come over your mother. It all comes from living abroad: foreigners are notoriously lax. And
one could approve of Mrs Gordon! There was an exceedingly unpleasant rumour going round that she had
Well, never mind. But she is not in my opinion a suitable companion for any young girl. Besides, she has been married and divorced several times already.'
âI don't see that you can hold that against her,' said Dany with a somewhat rueful smile. âWhat about Lorraine?'
different,' said Aunt Harriet firmly. âShe is your mother â and a Henderson. And I do wish you would not refer to her as “Lorraine”. You know how much I dislike it.'
âYes, Aunt. But you know how much she dislikes me calling her anything else.'
Aunt Harriet shifted her ground: âIt's a very complicated journey. I understand that the Green Zero Line only fly as far as Nairobi, and that you would have to spend a night in an hotel there, and take another aeroplane on the following day. Anything might happen. There have been race-riots in Nairobi.'
âYes, Aunt. But Lorraine â I'm sorry; Mother â says that Tyson's secretary, Nigel Ponting, will be meeting the plane there, so I shall be quite safe.'
âPontingÂ â¦ Yes. I have met him. He came here with your step-father two years ago. You were at school. A most affected man. More like a dancing master than a secretary. He minced and giggled. Not at all a reliable type, and I did not take to him.'
âI'm sorry, Aunt.'
Old Miss Henderson had been compelled to give up the unequal struggle, and Dany â naÃ¯ve, romantic, eager â had left for London unchaperoned, taken a room with a private bath and balcony at the Airlane, and indulged in an orgy of theatres, shopping and freedom.