Eve, p.1
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       Eve, p.1
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           Beverley Hughesdon


  Table of Contents


  Title Page

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty One

  Chapter Twenty Two

  Chapter Twenty Three

  Chapter Twenty Four

  Chapter Twenty Five

  Chapter Twenty Six

  Chapter Twenty Seven

  Chapter Twenty Eight

  Chapter Twenty Nine

  Chapter Thirty

  Chapter Thirty One

  Chapter Thirty Two

  Chapter Thirty Three

  Chapter Thirty Four

  Chapter Thirty Five

  Chapter Thirty Six

  Chapter Thirty Seven

  Chapter Thirty Eight

  Chapter Thirty Nine

  Chapter Forty

  Chapter Forty One

  Chapter Forty Two

  Chapter Forty Three

  Chapter Forty Four

  Chapter Forty Five

  Chapter Forty Six

  Chapter Forty Seven

  Chapter Forty Eight

  Chapter Forty Nine

  Chapter Fifty

  Chapter Fifty One

  Chapter Fifty Two

  Chapter Fifty Three

  Chapter Fifty Four



  Beverley Hughesdon

  Chapter One

  My father used to say to me, ‘You were born in Paradise, you know – that’s why we called you Eve.’

  His voice comes back to me now from over the years – and with it the landscape of my childhood. Steep slopes rising sheer above us, the river rushing over rocks below, and the stony track under my feet as we clambered up and up; and as that narrow, uneven path rose higher and higher so too did my excitement, because soon I’d be seeing for the first time the place where I was born.

  My steps quickened until I was almost running uphill – while laughing, my father lengthened his stride until the toiling porters were left far behind. And so we came to Milam, my birthplace – and home of the highest summer post office in British India.

  Milam – a huddle of sturdy stone huts perched on a spur at the foot of a towering mountainside. On the slope below, small terraced fields dropped swiftly down to the foaming white torrent of the glacier-fed Gori. I stood gazing at that dark, dramatic landscape and shivered – even the wind was stronger and fiercer and colder here. Then, bracing myself against that bitter blast I turned to my father and exclaimed, ‘Oh – isn’t it wonderful!’ And so it was.

  But not at all what I’d expected. I’d always imagined the Garden of Eden to be like the jungles of the terai at the base of the foothills: a lush green paradise where troops of bickering monkeys set the great scarlet blossoms of the semal trees dipping and swaying, where the fish leapt in wide silver rivers – and where the peacock darted his serpentine sapphire neck.

  So now, gazing at that bleak valley I protested, ‘But this isn’t at all like it says in the Bible. Where are all the trees – and the birds and the beasts—’

  My father broke in with a grin, ‘Be fair, Eve – look, there’s a bird.’

  I followed his pointing finger to where a bearded vulture was glumly picking over a small pile of sheep droppings, and began to giggle. My giggles turned to laughter and I couldn’t stop – the vulture turned and glared at me. I ran towards it, flapping my arms – and with a flap of its own wings it set off along the ground until it could lift itself into the air and go soaring up and up – up to the eternal snows.

  I watched until it had dwindled to a dark speck before turning to my father and begging him, ‘May we go and see the glacier – now, please?’ I was thirteen that summer, and always impatient.

  So we set off to view the Milam glacier – which, in truth, I was rather disappointed with. Big, yes – but definitely scruffy. I complained, ‘It’s all littered with dirty old rocks and boulders.’

  My father raised his eyebrows at this. ‘Oh, I see – Miss Eve Courtney requires her glaciers to be neatly swept every morning by the sweeper, does she?’

  Which set me off laughing again. ‘Poor old Bakha would be struggling with this one – it really would wear out the bristles of his broom. I mean, it is enormous,’ I gave a sideways glance to my father and added, ‘After all, it goes nearly all the way to Tibet, doesn’t it?’

  And I began to pester him yet again about the possibility of our pressing on to Tibet, until he diverted me with, ‘Eve, isn’t that a hoopoe over there?’ Which lifted a black and white tipped crest before setting off on its slow, hesitant flight. My father continued, ‘It’s surprising to see one as high as this, surely they haven’t nested on your glacier – especially not this year…’

  We were still talking about the habits of hoopoes as we walked back from the glacier, but then I saw that Faizullah and the porters had arrived, and I went rushing off to join in the excitement of pitching tents and making camp.

  It was much later, as we were sitting out in the open beside the campfire, listening to the crackle of juniper branches and watching the sparks fly up, that I turned to my father and said, ‘You know, Milam is a pretty special place, isn’t it? Even if it isn’t a bit like the Garden of Eden. I suppose it’s all a question of how you look at things, really.’

  He laughed, ‘There you are, Eve – so it’s just as I’ve always told you – you truly were born in Paradise.’

  I grinned. ‘Gosh, wasn’t I lucky?’ I was. And I am.

  But naturally I returned to the question of my name, reminding him that I wasn’t truly an Eve at all, since I’d been christened Evelyn Parvati Gunn Courtney – and Evelyn was his name, too.

  I remember very clearly how he didn’t reply at once. He leant forward and carefully positioned another branch on the fire before sitting back again and saying quietly, ‘Your Christian names were your mother’s choice, you know – all three of them.’

  Another branch, a longer silence – time enough for me to think of my mother, who’d come from Hungary; that was why I called my father not ‘Papa’, but ‘Apa’ – the Magyar diminutive. In turn, whenever he referred to my mother he called her ‘Anya’ instead of Mama—’your Anya’, he’d say. So now I prompted him with, ‘It was Anya, then, who named me after the goddess – because I was mountain-born, just like Parvati.’ I gazed round proudly at my newly-discovered birthplace, before adding, inevitably, ‘But I bet I was born even higher up than Parvati was!’

  Apa looked up, his smile a touch rueful now. ‘That was your mother’s choice as well. I wanted to pack her off safely to Naini Tal well before your arrival, but I couldn’t get leave myself, so your Anya insisted on coming on tour with me as usual. I was still hoping to persuade her at least to return home to Almora, but when we reached Tejam – and were being bitten by those beastly little mora flies that hang round there – Dr Enid arrived. She was on her way up here to Milam to open the mission’s summer dispensary.’

  ‘Your mother asked us if there were any mora flies at Milam, and when Enid and I told her it was far too high up in the mountains for them she announced, “Then, my dearest of Evelyns, I have decided – I will have my baby there – in the mountains. In India the mountains are holy places, so
it will be a good place to be born. Besides, I like mountains.” That was it. There was no arguing with my darling Katya once her mind was made up. And I was due to inspect the Johar valley, anyway, so up we came. No other woman would have managed to get here in her condition – and so early in the year, too – the Bhotias had only just finished repairing the road after the depredations of the winter snows – but your Anya could climb like a mountain goat!’

  I said, ‘Like me – and you, Apa.’

  ‘She was a better climber than I was – I knew that the moment I first saw her…

  I watched his face as he gazed into the past through the flickering flames – and then asked him a question I’d never asked before. ‘Apa, where did you first meet Anya?’

  It must seem odd that I had never asked him before, but you see, my mother had been dead for almost eleven years by then, and I’d no true memories of her – to me she was not a real person, but a photograph.

  I had no sense of missing her, because of Apa. Obviously I’d had an ayah when I was younger, but even then it was always Apa I went running to, Apa who told me my bedtime stories, Apa who coaxed me on when I was tired and fractious, Apa who teased and laughed me out of my bad temper, Apa who soothed and comforted me back to sleep when I had nightmares about Airi the demon huntsman and his pack of slavering hounds – and Apa who explained to me that all the varied and horrifying ghosts and demons of Almora didn’t actually exist, so I need never be frightened of them again. Apa, Apa – always Apa.

  And naturally I took it all for granted, as children do – and should. So I’d never thought of him as living in a world before me.

  Oh, I knew something about it – I knew that he’d trained as an army officer at Woolwich. That when he’d realised how wrong fighting was, and left the army, he’d travelled all over the world – including Australia where he’d worked as a stockman and learnt how to use an aboriginal throwstick – another of his skills that he’d taught me, along with some gripping geography lessons. Then, after more than ten years away he’d gone back to England, and trained at Coopers’ Hill to be a forest officer in India.

  I knew all that, but up to now it had seemed like a story in a book. It was only that day beside the campfire at Milam when I understood that Apa and Anya had been real people before they became my mother and father – had been ‘my dearest of Evelyns’, and ‘my darling Katya’, who must once have met for the very first time. So I asked him, ‘Apa, where did you first meet Anya?’

  His eyes met mine, remembering. Then he told me, ‘On the top of a mountain – in Hungary.’

  And so their story began. The other trainee foresters had gone to Germany for their practical experience, but Apa had decided on Hungary, a country he’d never been to before. On his way to stay at the castle of the Count who owned the forests where he was going to practice he climbed a mountain. ‘It was quite a stiff climb, and when I reached the top I sat down to get my breath back, and then I heard someone whistling a dance tune – a polka. I went to the edge and looked over and saw a young woman, skipping up the mountainside as friskily as a young goat! She sprang up beside me, twirled round to dance the final steps of her polka and then demanded, “Who are you – who dares to climb upon my mountain?”

  In German, because she’d guessed already that he was the English forest trainee who was coming to stay with her elderly father. She was Hungarian – which explains the terms “Anya” and “Apa” – but the Hungarian aristocracy spoke German as readily as Magyar. And having delivered her challenge she stood there on that mountain top with the sun turning her red hair into a halo of fire – laughing. And Apa fell in love. Totally, and irrevocably.

  He knew Anya didn’t feel the same as he did; to her he was just a friend, so he never told her of his feelings. Besides, he was older than she was, with no money and uncertain prospects – while Katya was a countess in her own right.

  That was a very happy time for Apa. He expected nothing more than friendship, which she gave, unstintingly. When he left to go back to London he promised to write of his progress to her father, and when the Count replied, Katya would scribble a little note at the bottom – and always it would finish with the plea, ‘Tell me more about In-d-ia!’ That had been their private joke – for although they always spoke together in German, Katya insisted on calling India by its English name.

  Then Apa heard that her beloved father had died. Apa left London, and spent all his spare cash on a ticket to Hungary. He found a white-faced, black-robed Katya, who greeted him with simple confidence. ‘I knew you would come to me, Evelyn.’ He could only stay a little while; she was surrounded by her much older half-brothers and their wives – who were strict and stern-faced. They were sure that poor Katya had been overly-indulged by her devoted father, and were now determined to crush her into proper womanly submission. But just the once they were alone together, and then she turned to Apa, weeping for the loss of the father she adored, and asked him, ‘Who will love me now, Evelyn?’

  He told her the truth, then. But he told her, too, that he expected nothing from her – that simply to love her was so great a privilege.

  He went back to London, and soon after, left for India. He wrote now to the elderly priest who had been the Count’s secretary and librarian. It was not, of course, proper for him to write to Katya – even if she hadn’t been so strictly chaperoned by her elder brothers’ wives. But she would still scribble a few words at the end of the chaplain’s replies: ‘Tell me more, Evelyn – I like so much to hear your tales of In-di-a.’

  It was over a year later that news of her betrothal came, to a handsome young man called Franz, of high rank and unimpeachable suitability. Katya was in love – or so she believed. Her half-brothers, who had arranged their meeting and encouraged the match, were finally pleased with her – and preparations for the marriage were proceeding apace.

  Apa sent her a present; he went to Naini Tal and in the bazaar there he had a silver bracelet made especially for her. Engraved on it were the words: ‘From IN—DI—A’. Then he travelled sadly back to Almora, and out on tour.

  He’d reached the dak bungalow at Berinag, which stands high on a ridge above the village. It was a fine, clear evening, and he sat on the verandah gazing across at the five snow peaks called Panch Chulhi, listening to the chanting of cicadas and the cooing of pigeons – and the excited chatter of two of his servants, who were pointing down the hillside. Then they called, ‘Sahib, sahib – see!’

  He stood up, and went to the edge of the grassy plateau, and there, skipping up the steep path between the pine trees was a young woman – the sun shining on her hair, turning it to fire…

  Laughing, she sprang up to meet him, and spoke her first sentence in English to him, ‘I haf come to you.’

  That evening she told him how, just two days before her wedding, she had put his bracelet on her wrist – and known in a moment there was only one man she truly loved – the man who had sent her that bracelet.

  She had told her half-brothers that she could not marry Franz now, but they would not listen – the marriage was already arranged, it was a great match, she must go ahead. So Katya sewed her jewels into her corset, borrowed her maid’s clothes, and escaped from the castle in the middle of the night. Disguised as a peasant girl, Katya, who’d never travelled anywhere without attendants before, set off alone for Marseilles – where she sold her jewellery and bought a ticket to Bombay.

  She travelled a thousand miles across India on the train until she reached Kathgodam, at the foot of the hills. There she’d hired a pony, ridden up to Almora, and then on to find Apa, and tell him, ‘I haf come to you.’

  * * *

  I still remember every word of that story of simple love and total trust. When Apa told it to me, I thought it was the most wonderful story I’d ever heard. I still do. Our own love story has been much more complicated – and the trust, that’s been hard-won. But we made it in the end, didn’t we? And now at last we’ve reached those calm and lo
ving days when there is time to remember – remember the excitement, the turbulence, the passion – and the love. Our love. Yes, we’ve been lucky, you and I – so very much luckier than Anya and Apa.

  Apa looked up from the campfire. The evening was very quiet and still now, as he told me softly, ‘That was the happiest day of my life, Eve.’ Then he smiled, ‘Until the day you were born, of course – here, in Paradise.’

  Chapter Two

  So there we were in Milam, in pargana Johar of the district of Almora, in the United Provinces, Upper India. The month was June and the year was 1907 – and the snows had melted late. Which was why we hadn’t got time to go over into Tibet, which had only recently ceased being the forbidden land – to everyone except Bhotias, that is. They’d always been allowed over the border to trade, which is why Milam exists in the first place. Although buckwheat and barley and aramanth will grow there – if you’re lucky and the weather doesn’t wreck the crops that year – Milam’s true purpose is as a staging post for the Tibetan trade. Wheat and barley, sugar and silver, brass and copper all go into Tibet, and salt, borax, wool and yak tails come out.

  So that’s why the Bhotias were there – but whyever were Apa and I in Milam? Because of the problem of my German lessons. Not that I’d had much trouble learning to speak German: languages come easily to me. They do if you’ve grown up in India – for when you’re surrounded by people speaking in different tongues it seems normal to you to be able to switch from one to another, because everybody else is doing the same.

  The people who live in the district of Almora, the Kumaonis, are bi-lingual. As well as Pahari, the language of the hills, they also speak the Hindustani of the plains – which is in its turn a mixture of two languages, Hindi and Urdu. But that’s only the start. Each area has its own variant dialect, and the Bhotias can often speak Tibetan, too, while lots of people in Almora can speak English as well – which, of course, I used with Apa – who was an ace at languages because he’d been born in the Tower of Babel that was India, as well.

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