For Charles Arthur and Betty McKee
About the Author
Also by Jojo Moyes
About the Publisher
This book would not have been written were it not for the crystalline memory of my grandmother, Betty McKee, whose extraordinary romance with my late grandfather, Eric, and colorful recall of it I have shamelessly plundered in order to bring my own characters to life. I would also like to thank Stephen Rabson of P&O's archive department, for helping paint a vivid picture of passenger life on board ship during the 1950s and Pieter Van der Merwe and Nicholas J. Evans of the National Maritime Museum in London for their help with naval history. Thanks also to Brian Sanders for his imparted knowledge of the Suez Canal.
My heartfelt gratitude goes to Jo Frank at APWatt for finally getting me into print, and for all her encouragement, advice, and tremendous lunches in the (long, long) lead up to it. Equal thanks to Carolyn Mays and the wonderful team at Hodder U.K. and HarperCollins U.S. for their alchemists' skills, and to Vicky Cubitt for her seemingly endless enthusiasm. I'd like some of what you're on.
I'm immensely grateful to Anya Waddington and Penelope Dunn for their advice and contacts, and for not ever raising an eyebrow when I told them I had written something else "that I'd like them to take a look at." Also to David Lister and Mike McCarthy at the Independent and Ken Wiwa for their boundless generosity and encouragement during our various literary adventures. Good luck with the next ones, guys.
Thanks to my parents, Jim Moyes and Lizzie Sanders, for passing down if not a genetic storytelling ability, then a certain bloody-minded determination. But most to my husband, Charles, for the uncomplaining babyminding, considered criticisms, and faith that I could do it. To him, and everyone I've ever bored rigid with yet another story idea, thank you.
Then shall the Archbishop kiss the Queen's right hand. After which the Duke of Edinburgh shall ascend the steps of the Throne, and having taken off his coronet, shall kneel down before her Majesty, and placing his hands between the Queen's shall pronounce the words of Homage, saying:
I, Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
do become your liege man of life and limb,
and of earthly worship;
and faith and truth will I bear unto you,
to live and die, against all manner of folks.
So help me God.
And arising, he shall touch the Crown upon her Majesty's head and kiss her Majesty's left cheek.
In like manner shall the Duke of Gloucester and the Duke of Kent severally do their homage.
FROM THE FORM AND ORDER OF THE CORONATION SERVICE, 1953
It had probably been rather rude, Joy thought afterward, to meet one's future husband on what was really meant to be Princess Elizabeth's day. Or Queen Elizabeth II, as she would more grandly be known by the end of it. Still, considering the momentousness of the occasion for both of them, it had been quite hard (for Joy at least) to work up the appropriate feeling of excitement.
It was a day portentous of rain, not divine appointment. The skies over Hong Kong harbor had been humid and iron gray, and walking slowly around the Peak with Stella clutching a folder of damp song sheets, her armpits sliding as if greased and her blouse already sticking to her back like icing, Joy had felt something less than monarchist fervor at the thought of the Brougham Scotts' coronation party.
There was her mother, already fluttering at home, a taut string of anticipation and dissatisfaction, largely due to the presence of her father, back from one of his China trips. Her father's visits always seemed to coincide with a swift downturn in Alice's moods, anchoring her hankerings for a better life, somewhere else, into something meaner and darker. "You're not wearing that," she had said, and frowned at Joy, her mouth a scarlet moue of disapproval.
Joy had eyed the door. She was desperate to meet Stella, and avoid having to walk to the Brougham Scotts' villa with her parents and had fibbed, telling them that the hosts had requested the sheet music early. Journeys with her parents, even by foot, left her feeling seasick.
"You look so plain, darling. And you're wearing your heels. You'll tower over everyone." That "darling" was a familiar sweetener to disguise the unpleasantness of what Alice was saying.
"I'll sit down."
"You can't sit down all evening."
"I'll bend my knees then."
"You should wear a wider belt. It'll shorten you."
"It'll cut into my ribs."
"I don't know why you have to be so difficult. I'm just trying to make the best of you. It's not as if you try to make yourself look nice."
"Oh, Mummy, I don't mind. No one else will mind. It's not as if anyone's going to notice me. They'll all be listening to the princess saying her vows, or whatever it is she does." Just let me go, she willed. It would be bad enough to have to suffer Alice's corrosive temper for the entire party.
"Well, I mind. People will think I've brought you up not to care."
What people will think was very important to Alice. Hong Kong is a goldfish bowl, she would say. There was always someone looking at you, talking about you. What a very small and boring world they must live in, Joy wanted to answer. But she didn't, largely because it was true.
There was her father, who would doubtless drink too much, and kiss all the women on their mouths instead of their cheeks, so that they glanced around anxiously, unsure whether they had missed something. Just letting his hair down a bit, he would shout back at Alice later. What kind of a wife would deny her husband a bit of fun, after weeks of exhausting work in China (and we all knew the horrors of dealing with the orientals)? He hadn't been the same since the Japanese invasion. But then they didn't talk about that.
There were the Brougham Scotts. And the Marchants. And the Dickinsons. And the Alleynes. And all the other couples who lived in that particular class that resided just below the Peak, but not below Robinson Road (midlevels were really for the clerical classes these days), and saw one another at every drinks party at the Hong Kong Cricket Club, and met one another at the race meetings at the Happy Valley Race Course, and shared company junks on sherry-fueled boat trips around the outlying islands, and moaned about the difficulty of getting milk, and the mosquitoes, and the cost of property, and the shocking rudeness of the Chinese help. And talked about England, and how much they missed it, and about those visitors from England, and how pale and boring their lives seemed, and how drab England seemed to be even though the war had been over for simply ages. But most of all they talked about one another: the services men, a whole separate language of in-jokes and barrack-room humor; the merchant men, discussing and disparaging their rivals' performances; their women, grouping and regrouping in endless bored and toxic permutations.
Worst of all there was William. William who was omnipresent at any social gathering with his receding chin and his blond hair as fragile and wispy as his strangled, high-pitched voice, placing his clammy hands on the small of her back to propel her into places she had no desire to go to. While pretending, politely, to listen, she could look down on the top of his head,
and consider where it was going to thin next.
"Do you think she's nervous?" said Stella. Her hair, glossy as wet varnish, had been pinned back in a chignon. There were no stray hairs to frizz in the damp air, unlike Joy's, which launched a chaotic bid for freedom within minutes of being pinned back. Bei-Lin, her amah, would scowl and tut at Joy when she was pinning it, as if it were due to some deliberate unruliness on Joy's part.
"The princess. I would be. Think of all those people watching."
Stella, resplendent in a red skirt, white blouse, and blue cardigan, especially for the occasion, had displayed what Joy considered a rather unhealthy interest in the Princess Elizabeth for the past weeks, speculating upon her choice of jewels, her outfits, the weight of her crown, even how her new husband was likely to feel jealous about her title, seeing as he didn't get to be king. Joy was beginning to suspect a rather unhumble-subjectlike sense of identification going on.
"Well, they won't all be seeing her. There'll be lots like us, who'll be listening only on the wireless." They both stepped aside to let a car pass, glancing briefly inside to see if it was anyone they knew.
"But she could still get the words wrong. I would. I'm sure I would stutter."
Joy doubted this, as Stella provided the template for just about everything ladylike. Unlike Joy, Stella was the proper height for a young lady, Stella always wore elegant clothes that her Tsim Sha Tsui tailor made up in the latest Paris fashions, Stella never tripped over her feet, or was sulky in front of company, or got tongue-tied talking to the endless line of officers who, passing through, were commandeered to the "receptions" designed to take their minds off their impending arrival at the Korean War. Joy often thought that Stella's public image might have been slightly dented if her ability to belch the entire alphabet had been as visible.
"Do you think we'll have to stay for the whole thing?"
"What, the whole ceremony?" Joy sighed, kicking at a stone. "It's bound to take absolutely hours, and they'll all get tipsy and start talking about one another. And my mother will start flirting with Duncan Alleyne and start on about how William Farqhuarson is related by marriage to the Jardines and has the right sort of prospects for a girl of my standing."
"I should think he's rather short for a girl of your standing." Stella also had wit.
"I've worn my high heels specially."
"Oh, come on, Joy. It's exciting. We're going to get a new Queen."
"Why should I be excited? It's not even as if we live in the same place."
"Because she's still our Queen. She's almost the same age as us! Imagine! And it's the biggest party for simply ages. Everyone will be there."
"But they're all the same people. It's no fun going to parties if it's always the same people."
"Oh, Joy, you're determined to be miserable. There are lots of new people if you'd just talk to them."
"But I don't have anything to say. They're only interested in shopping and clothes and who's being disgraceful with whom."
"Oh, excuse us," said Stella, archly. "And what else is there?"
"I don't mean you. But you know what I mean. There must be more to life. Don't you ever want to go to America? or England? Or travel the world?"
"I've been. Lots of places." Stella's father was a naval commander. "Frankly, I think people are interested in the same things wherever you go. When we were in Singapore it was just one big blur of cocktail parties. Even Mummy was bored," said Stella. "Anyway, it's not always all the same people. There are officers. There'll be lots there today. And I'm sure you won't have met them all."
There were lots of officers. The Brougham Scotts' wide palazzo terrace, which overlooked Hong Kong harbor in the rare moments when the mist at the top of the Peak cleared, was a sea of whites. Inside the house, under fans whirring like huge propellers, Chinese staff also dressed in white topcoats moved silently between them in soft shoes, proffering long iced drinks on silver trays. Murmuring voices rose and fell above the music, which itself seemed muffled by the heavy, wet heat. The Union Jack pennants, strung across the ceiling points, hung like wet washing, barely moving despite the contrived breeze.
Pale and luscious, and seemingly as limp, Elvine Brougham Scott was reclining on a damask-clad chaise longue in the corner of the marbled drawing room, surrounded, as was habitual, by a corps of attentive officers. She wore a plum-colored silk dress with a sweetheart neckline and a long, gathered skirt that fell in folds around her long, pale legs. (There were no sweat marks under her arms, noted Joy, pressing her own close to her sides.) One of her shoes--trimmed with a joke ermine--had already been kicked onto the floor below, revealing Elvine's scarlet toenails. Joy knew what her mother would say, when she saw her, while biting back her own frustration at not being Barbara Stanwyck enough to wear it herself. Scarlet Woman lipstick was as close to vampish as Alice got, although it wasn't from lack of longing.
Joy and Stella deposited the song sheets and nodded a hello, knowing Mrs. Brougham Scott would not want to be interrupted. "How will we hear the ceremony?" said Stella, anxiously, glancing around for the wireless. "How will they know when it's begun?"
"Don't worry, my dear, hours to go yet," said Duncan Alleyne, bowing as he passed, in order to check his watch. "Don't forget they're seven hours behind in Blighty." Duncan Alleyne always spoke like the R.A.F. hero in a war film. The girls found it laughable, but Alice, to Joy's disgust, seemed to think it turned her into Celia Johnson.
"Do you know she has to accept "the lively oracles of God?" said Stella, rapturously.
"Princess Elizabeth. In the ceremony. She has to accept the "lively oracles of God." Haven't a clue what they are. Oh. And she has four Knights of the Garter attending her. Do you think they might possibly look after her real garters? She does have a Mistress of the Robes, after all. Betty Warner told me."
Joy stared at the faraway look in Stella's eyes. Why couldn't she feel as transported by the occasion? Why did the thought of the evening ahead fill her only with dread?
"Oh. And you'll never guess. She has her breast anointed with holy oil. Her real breast. I wish it wasn't the wireless so we could see if the Archbishop actually touches it."
"Hello, Joy. Gosh--you look--you look--actually, you look rather warm. Did you have to walk here?" It was William, blushing at his own approach, his hand extended limply in an unconvinced attempt at greeting. "Sorry. Didn't mean--I mean, I walked. Too. And I'm terribly damp. Much damper than you. Look."
Joy swept a tall pink drink from a passing tray, and gulped at it. It wasn't just Princess Elizabeth laying down her life for her country today.
There had been rather a few tall pink drinks by the time coronation hour approached. Joy, who tended to get dehydrated in the humidity, had found the tall pink drinks slipped down rather easily. They didn't taste alcoholic, and her mother's attention had been elsewhere--torn between the rictus Toby Jug grin of Duncan Alleyne, and her fury at her own husband's apparent enjoyment--so it was rather a surprise to her when Princess Elizabeth's face, fixed high on the dining room wall, suddenly multiplied, and appeared to be grinning in complicity at Joy's attempts to walk a straight line.
Over several hours the noise of the party had gradually risen and swollen, filling the hosts' substantial ground floor, their guests' voices greased and elevated by the copious supply of drinks. Joy had grown progressively more withdrawn as the evening had drawn on, lacking the social skills for talking about nothing that these events seemed to require. Joy was apparently good only at losing people, not captivating them. William she had finally shaken off, telling him she was sure Mr. Amery had wanted to talk to him about business. Stella had disappeared, swallowed into a ring of admiring naval officers; Rachel and Jeannie, the other two girls of her age, were seated in a corner with their twin Brylcreemed beaux; and so freed from the opprobrium--or even attention--of her peers, the tall pink drinks and Joy had become rather good friends.
Realizing her glass was somehow empty again, she glanced around for another houseboy. They appeared to have vanished--or maybe it was just that she was finding it hard to distinguish their bodies from anyone else's. They should have all worn Union Jack jackets, she decided, giggling to herself. Union Jackets. Or little crowns.
She was dimly aware of a gong banging, and Mr. Brougham Scott's laughing tenor attempting to summon everybody around the wireless. Joy, leaning briefly against a pillar, waited for the people in front of her to move. When they moved, she would be able to walk out onto the terrace and breathe in the breeze. But at the moment their bodies kept swaying and merging, forming an impossible wall.
"Oh, God," she muttered. "I need some air."
She had thought these words had been spoken only in her head, but a hand suddenly took her arm, and muttered, "Let's get you outside then."
Joy, to her surprise, found she had to look up. (Joy rarely had to look up--she was taller than nearly all the Chinese, and most of the men at the party.) She could just about make out two long, grave faces looming at her, swimming above two tight, white collars. A naval officer. Or two. She couldn't be quite sure. Either way, one of them had her arm and was steering her gently through the crowd toward the balcony.
"Do you want to sit down? Take deep breaths. I'll get you a glass of water." He sat her on a wicker chair and disappeared.
Joy gulped in the clean air, as if it were water. It was getting dark, and the mist had descended on the Peak, shrouding the house from the rest of Hong Kong Island. The only clues that they were not there alone were the distant, rude honking of barges traveling through the waters below, the rustle of nearby banyan trees and a faint waft of garlic and ginger, whispering through the still air.
It was this smell that suddenly did Joy in. "Oh, God," she muttered. "Oh, no . . ."
She glanced behind her, noting with relief that the last of the partygoers were disappearing into the room with the wireless. And then she leaned over the balcony and was lengthily and noisily sick.
When she finally sat up, her chest heaving, and her hair stuck sweatily to her temples, she opened her eyes to find, to her horror, the naval officer standing in front of her proffering a glass of ice water.