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Europa Editions

214 West 29th St., Suite 1003

New York NY 10001



This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously.

Copyright © 2017 by Sarah Moss

First publication 2017 by Europa Editions

All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

Cover art and illustration by Emanuele Ragnisco


ISBN 9781609453800

Sarah Moss









There is a boy.

Through the leaves, the sun shines copper on his hair. He doesn’t hear the sea meeting the shore behind the trees as he doesn’t hear the wingbeat in the chambers of his heart. The trees make oxygen and the boy’s lungs expand, his ribs rise, blood reddens in his arteries. There is a boy.

There is a bird near the boy. The bird is as big as the boy’s hand and it’s not brown but the colour of wet straw and its speckles look like indentations and there are two charcoal stripes on each wing, as if the bird has been drawn fast in oil pastel, and the boy has been still for so long that the bird doesn’t know there is a boy.

The boy is waiting.

The red maple leaves are bright as blood against the greens of a Cornish garden. The rabbits don’t take cover there, as if they know what’s foreign. Sparrows and blue tits don’t gather in the black bamboo. No fox footprints mar the ribbing of raked gravel, nor is a heron reflected beside the stepping stones leading only to the middle of the moon-watching pond. Sometimes, at night, the owl lands on the roof of the tea-house and turns its head, looking for mice by moonlight.

Twigs break and a rustle comes through the leaves. Papa, humming. Then t’worms’ll coom and eat ’ee oop. Not in front of the patients, please, my loves, says Mamma. Or at least not with such gusto. Later, there will be proper tea in the house with the patients and Mamma at the head of the table, potted meat sandwiches, salad from the garden, a sponge cake made with eggs Laurence carried from the henhouse before he went to school this morning. Later there will be piano practice, arithmetic, hair-washing. Papa sits down on the edge of the veranda to take off his shoes. He has darned his socks with the wrong colour.

They can’t always get green tea but Papa has brought a new package from Bates across the water. A ship came in, he says. Papa kneels on the floor to lift the lid of the shiny wooden box of utensils Makoto sent him from Tokyo. He sets up the primus to boil water. He arranges the cups and the teapot, rough and heavy as grey pebbles, on a black tray that shines like ice and has gold birds painted on it. Laurence squats on the veranda and watches. Papa’s trousers strain. Laurence can kneel like that, with his heels under his bottom, but his feet get squashed and he doesn’t see why he should.

‘A story?’ Papa asks. ‘The badgers and the bag of gold? The traveller and the fox cubs?’

Laurence smiles at Papa and shakes his head.

‘The cat and the moon-watching pond?’

Papa likes to tell Japanese stories in which animals change shape and speak.

‘Tell me how you made our house. Tell me about the garden.’

Papa smiles at him. ‘Let me make the tea first. Gather my thoughts.’















Tom walks onto the platform. No, he thinks, I ascend the podium. I am The Speaker. His notes dampen in his fingers; well, it is warm in here. Silence spreads like smoke through his audience, faces turn. He takes a breath, offers a reassuring smile over the lectern, and begins.

He knows these audiences. It is where he himself began, slipping into the gallery of the Workers’ Education Society Hall in Harrogate for the evening lecture series, sitting among men whose hands told their trades. Thick fingers calloused and scarred, engrained with iron or brick dust or oil, the minerals that fuel the Empire making their way through layers of skin and into the blood of England’s working men. Aye lad, they said, sit and hear if you will, just so’s you’re quiet, start young and you’ll make something of yourself yet. It was his mother’s greatest, perhaps sole, ambition, that he should make something of himself, and here he is. The Speaker.

Later, he will give them the geometry, the trigonometry, the calculation of the reflection and refraction of light. At the beginning, it is not how but why. Because, he says, lighthouses are the beacons of progress. Lighthouses illuminate the advance of civilisations. Like any form of civil engineering, lighthouses allow those who build and maintain them to save the lives of others or to walk the world with deaths on their consciences, but that is not really what they are for, not why governments spend thousands of pounds. Sailors’ lives are important but you who work in the mills and factories, who spend your lives in this city, know that history is not made by the lives and deaths of individuals. Lighthouses are important because without them, there cannot be intercontinental trade. Because only explorers will chance a ship approaching an unknown coast after nightfall or in fog; no cargo captain in his right mind would hazard such a thing. The tea you drink, he tells his audience, the calico your wives wear, the raisins in your pudding, come to us across the seas by grace of lighthouses. Where there are no lighthouses, there are no ships, and where there are no ships, there is no trade.

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