© Korolev Victor, autor, 2020
© Publishing "Academizdat", 2020
I have always been interested in the line that the author is allowed to cross in historical books, when he writes how everything happened, what exactly the characters of his work said. This line between fiction and speculation occupies me today. For detective or romance novels, this is not so important. And for historical novels it is very important.
As an author, it gives me great pleasure to tell the unknown about people who have left a noticeable mark in history. Such people very many, and here is know about them most often very few. And so it does not matter, in my opinion, what and how the characters say, what they wear and what they ride. These are details. And much more important are their actions, their difficult life path with all its repetitions.
A writer is not a historian. It doesn't work with sources. His task is to penetrate into the soul of his hero, see the world through his eyes, and then tell about what he saw. And not to lie at the same time, not to invent what was not and could not be. This is necessary if you write about a person not just real, but significant, known in his time.
I wanted to tell you about the British diplomat Archibald Kerr, who did a lot for Russia. He represented Britain in fifteen different countries. From 1942 to 1946 he was Ambassador to the USSR. I was very surprised to learn that there is no book about this interesting man in Russian. Moreover – and in English there is only one: Donald Gillies. “Radical Diplomat: The Life of Sir Archibald Clark Kerr, Lord Inverchapel, 1882–1951”.
It was published twenty years ago, has survived several editions, but today it is somehow forgotten.
The author of this English book faithfully, observing the chronology, described the vicissitudes of life of his hero. He had access to the diplomat's personal archives and diaries, and he cited hundreds of his letters. And only rarely commented on them and expressed his opinion about certain events. This is a very thorough work of the historian. His book cannot be called a work of art. But her help for the novel was enormous.
I would not like, of course, to idealize the hero of my novel, but I am very impressed with his views on the war. Archibald Kerr volunteered for the front as a private soldier, although service in the Foreign Office gave him reservations. And there, in the trenches of the First World War, he realized an important truth: war is the most terrible thing on earth. Only those who know how to negotiate – diplomats – can stop this evil.
Archibald Kerr was an excellent diplomat. One of the best in the twentieth century – now that I've read everything about him, I'm sure of it. Therefore, a novel was born about the life and amazing adventures of such an extraordinary person.
Everyone who laughed at the kilt was long dead
Oh, how I want to paint the birth of a son at John Kerr! The bright colours, the spicy smells, the screams of the gulls, the March sun rising, the mica glints on the snowy peaks of the distant Grampian Mountains, and the joyous cry of the old midwife:
‘It's a son! You have a son!’
And he would go into the house his grandfather had built, look at the pink, wrinkled face of his firstborn, put on his holiday kilt, and walk down the familiar path, and already painted with coloured crocuses. He would open the door to a tavern that smelled of salt and tar, and order a festive seven-course Scottish dinner: one bottle of whisky and six pints of good ale. And all familiar sailors and granite craftsmen will drink to the health of the heir:
‘John Kerr, we congratulate you on the new John Kerr!’
He was respected here. His father, also John Kerr, was remembered here. There was no doubt that another John Kerr had been born.
Half the friends in honour of such an event will be dressed in plaid shirts and canvas pants, a stake standing because of fish oil. Half the friends in honour of such an event will be dressed in tartan shirts and canvas pants, a stake standing because of fish oil. And those who are not in the sea or at the factory today came light, in plaid kilts. Fish scales sparkle in their beards like silver coins. So the day went on the right course, anger and sadness has no place in this smoky room today. Not all Scots drink whisky, but everyone will drink it tonight.
And let a few dark Englishmen in frock-coats and caps enter the tavern for a contrast – there will be enough room for all, no one has been at war for a long time. And let the youngest of them laugh, looking at the cheerful bearded man in a festive kilt. Not need to finger at poke, a boy, in the answer stonemason John Kerr grudgingly will raise with benches in the entire its six-foot growth and, showing fellow enormous fist, will tell on the entire hall:
‘Everyone who laughed at the kilt is dead!’
No one will get cutlasses, because no one ordered a fight. The Scots would order more whisky, for complete mugs, and move their mugs:
‘Drink to England!’
And they will drink for a long time and laugh even longer. Then they would drink again to the lady of the seas, winking at each other.
To the sound of bagpipes drunken John will be funny to dance in the middle of the hall, hammering boots into the floor with a pull and a thump. And when it gets dark, he'll go home. He would sit by his pale wife's bedside and watch her feed the baby. Then the child, wrapped in thin cambric swaddling clothes and a goat-hair blanket, would fall asleep, and they would talk, looking at the child's face, so bright in the firelight.
‘I'm so glad he's going to be John, too!’
‘When the midwife cries “son”, all are happy’ he will tell in the answer. ‘But then let a girl be born, I not against. When a lot of children in the house – it's to wealth.’
‘I want our John to have a few names. In honour of you and your father already is. And can be still in honour my mother’s?’
‘Clara? You're crazy!’
‘At least let it is Clark.’
‘Well, so be it. Clark is as short and clear as John.’
‘And Archibald – in honour of the fighters for the independence of Scotland, can you?’
‘Go to sleep!’
And he will sit for a long time at the fading fireplace, which he folded with his own hands before the wedding. And he carved the mantelpiece himself out of local Aberdeen granite with spangles of mica. It was warm in the house old John had built.
Of all the tight people his grandfather was the tightest. And so he saved up for a house, and his father bought goats and the first sheep. Thank you grandfather and father for house, for goats and for sheep! Then John, who built the house, died; father died in a factory explosion of a steam engine. And for his son today began a new life. He had a son of his own today.
He adored his young wife. Kat Louise- that was her name – had brought a considerable dowry to the house, and she was easy-going and domesticated, and life in the family began to improve quickly. She loved her husband, too, though she sometimes made fun of him. Over his red beard, which, as she argued, well brush you’re not only pans, but and drunken snout. She did not beat her husband, like her other girlfriends.
She knew that if it happened, it would be the first and last time. Nor did he imagine himself alone. He dreamed of a large family and well celebrated today the birth of a son…
…About so I wanted to paint the birth of the firstborn in the family of Kerr, a resident of the old Scottish city of Aberdeen. But that wasn't really the case. Maybe it's better this way?
…Future diplomat Archibald Clark John Kerr was not born in Scotland, but in Australia. It happened on March 17, 1882.
So the father of the as yet unborn John Kerr – also John, son of John, and grandson of old hoarder John, who had saved for a house – was married to a young woman with a good dowry. They all hail from Aberdeen, the former capital of the Scottish kings. Their ancestors still managed to participate in the ongoing wars with the British for the independence of their part of the island. But that was a century and a half ago.
When the industrial revolution began, Aberdeen stonemasons had a hard time. New machines drove the grinders out of their homes. Well, if they still had time to hire a sailor on a sailing ship of the East India Company in their home Harbor or in Glasgow.
The diplomat's father was already a master of the axe and had joined a merchant ship. He enriched the local merchants with Indian spices by going to Bengal. He'd heard a lot of bilge stories over the months about the mad races of tea clippers ship and unbearably, childishly longed for home and for the still beardless friends on the bench in the tavern.
The ship finally docked in London. Port was recruiting for the East India Company's own clipper ship, built exactly to the plans of an American ship, but John decided to return to Aberdeen. It was right. The clipper sank before reaching Shanghai. And then there were the opium wars in China and the war in India. In short, when the money earned came to an end, he returned to port in Aberdeen. But it was different. All sailing vessels were scrapped, giving way to steamers. Carpenters were not needed, mechanics were needed.
John Kerr-senior had already become familiar with steam engines at the factory, these thundering monsters, shooting jets of scalding steam and splashes of hot oil. And he said to his son:
‘You've seen whales in the North Sea, weathered storms in the ocean – don't you have to be afraid of steam boilers? Go learn to read and write!’
And John Kerr Jr. went to the newly opened free school. He was twenty years old, nearly six feet tall, and weighed nine stone. When one of his classmates decided to make fun of his kilt, he with one hand lifted mischief's to the ceiling and said to the others:
‘Everyone who laughed at the kilt is dead!’ Kilt for a Scotsman-this pride, his need to earn.’
For two years of study ahead of all, learned to read and count quickly, learned the basics of navigation and safety when working with steam engines. His father died in a factory accident. Then John Kerr Jr. buried his grandfather and mother. Forty days later he brought home his young wife, her name was Kat Louise Robertson.
Now, it seems, everything is as it was in reality. But life in his family did not improve. At first it was unbearably hard, and then harder and harder. What's the Celtic revival? Even after many, many years, the already well-formed diplomat Archibald Clark John Kerr will walk away from talking about that period, tacitly stating that neither the rich Celts nor the noble Welsh, his relatives have nothing to do, his father was a simple worker and, not to die of hunger, sold the house and went to Australia in search of a better life.
People were being squeezed out of Aberdeen. At night someone set fire to wooden houses – whole streets burned. Someone was setting them on fire to make room for new factory floors. The English had the best seats in the town hall and in the port. Thousands of Scots went to Glasgow, London – wherever they had to.
They had no work. They had no children either. In the evenings John Kerr and Kat sat by the fire. He read aloud to his wife a book about cruel pirates, talked about storms and distant lands, about amazing Indian animals as tall as a house and a nose as long as a hose. She did not believe that there were such big animals in the world, she called her husband a sea – wolf and a storyteller, but her eyes burned, and her face shone with the expectation of female happiness.
‘I really want to see it all, if you're not kidding!’ she whispered, hugging her husband.
Almost all the neighbors and friends left the old town. And one day John picked up an old Edinburgh paper in the harbor. He glanced at the big headline and raced home.
‘Look what's happening! The British bought shares in the Suez Canal! Now Australia can be reached in just a month! Going?’
The house and the goats were sold at half price, enough money for the journey to London, two one-way steamer tickets, and not much left.
‘Let the starboard side, but a separate cabin for two, it's an unthinkable luxury!’ John the sea wolf laughed. ‘You have no idea, Kat, how cramped we were on the ship for a year!’
There were so many things that he had to return to the dock several times. At last he hauled the last of the trunks over, shrugging off the heavy sack.
‘What's the matter with you? Why are you so sad?’
His wife sat at the open porthole, looking as lost as if they had forgotten something important in Scotland.
It would be better if he didn't look.
Two feet below floated cigarette butts, sodden Newspapers, and old rags, all of which threatened to spill into the cabin when the ship tilted slightly on Board. In addition, the seashell-covered pier piles swayed in front of his eyes. There was no sky or sun.
‘Close it,’ Kat said softly.
He closed the porthole, pulled back the curtains, and lit a kerosene lamp.
‘Never mind, dear, we've only been sailing this way for a month. Lie down to rest…’
There was only one bunk. His wife refused to sleep in the hammock. She made her bed and fell asleep instantly. Nor did he hear the steamer leave the harbor and head for Sydney.
He was awakened by his wife screaming. She was thrown out of bed, and the next wave threw her stomach onto the table. The ship rocked so violently that he grabbed the hook and barely managed to get out of the hammock. The lamp went out. They sat for hours on the floor, hugging each other and fighting off the flying baskets and trunks in the darkness.
When the storm subsided, John went to the Laundry, it wasn't far. His wife sat on the bed, staring at nothing. She could neither eat nor talk – and sat or lay flat for days until the ship passed the gates of Gibraltar.
Then it got very hot, just unbearably hot. The cabin was as hot as a tin can on a fire. John was wiping his wife with wet sheets that dried instantly. Another week passed. Kat was terrifying to look at; she had lost a lot of weight and was breathing hard. As the ship approached Port Said, he carried her – weightless as a child – on deck.
The sun was rising over the canal. She felt better in the fresh air.
‘How strange it is! Why? What is it?’ she whispered. ‘Everywhere only sand, and suddenly water, and not a single person is visible…’
Then, in the Indian Ocean, they were again waiting for the storm. But the ultimate goal was getting closer and closer.
Sydney seemed to them a poor village, a huge construction site, where temporary huts were standing mixed in with military tents and tents of nomads.
The University had been in operation in Aberdeen for a long time, the stately castles were surrounded by gardens, on Sundays there was a fountain in the Central Square, and they went to see it after the sermon. And here, as can be here at all to live?
She waited in silence on the pier for John to bring the hired van and load up. She crawled under the tarp. Neither of them knew where to go next. They stayed in a shack where they were given a room for a month for a gold sovereign. The prices were ridiculous.
While Kat was recovering, John was not idle. He bought twenty acres of land and laid the Foundation for his own house. Before the beginning of the rainy season they managed to make a roof at the house. A stone house with a fireplace – what else does a young family need? Ah, children. There were problems with that. The doctor said:
‘You have to accept. That storm in the Atlantic is to blame.’
The years went by. John's hands, his ability to handle stone or wood, horses or cars equally well, made a lot of money. And the natural the Scot's thrift brought them out of poverty very quickly. They even took a maid from the local aborigines. She worked from morning till late at night in the kitchen garden and cattle, freeing her wife from the hardest work.
Kat hadn't made a fuss when she'd caught her husband in hip contact with the staff. On the contrary, she began to teach her to read and write, gave her a name – Martha. It is clear that the mother of the child born on March 17, 1882, was considered to be Kat Louise. She asked her husband only one question:
‘Is it okay that he was born on St. Patrick's Day?’
‘It's nothing! The Irish, too, in life inherited. They're with us!’ John said, clearly implying that all of humanity had long been divided into English and everyone else, and Celtic celebration could be celebrated in Dublin, Glasgow and Sydney. Everywhere but London!
Little Kerr was baptized in a small local Church. Kat put on a white dress. Father put on his kilt and a plaid shirt. Son, as and dreamed parents, gave triple name of-Archibald Clark John. It was believed that the more names a person had, the more lives were waiting for him on earth. Actually, it happened. The first life of the future diplomat began.
By then Sydney had become one of the largest cities in the British Empire and even the world! Here, too, a University had opened, fountains had sprung up in the squares, high – rise buildings and Victorian palaces had been built-all of which reminded the Kerr of their native Aberdeen. And when they saw a huge elephant, camels, kangaroos, monkeys and colorful parrots in the zoo, Kat told her husband that she would never leave warm Australia now. Her dream had come true.
The boy was born fair-haired, big like his father, only his nose flattened, like a boxer's. And the fight he accounted for often. He broke his noses when people laughed at his kilt. And he got a lot from his father. The elder John believed in the old-fashioned way that strong parental slaps grow healthy guys. Kat tried to shield the child from the discipline of the stick, but her husband was adamant. And Martha was not allowed to see the baby at all.
To read and write Archibald learned sooner, than secured for themselves not only parental pride, but and physical inviolability. At school, however, fists came in handy. The first person to ask why he wasn't red – headed, like all Scots, got hit in the nose.
The next boy asked what the newcomer had under his kilt and regretted his curiosity. Anyone who deliberately mispronounced the word “Scot” risked their nose.
There were many Britons, Celts, Welsh, and even Indians in the class. The Scots immediately recognized Archie as the leader. And when one of his new friends told him in a whisper that Kerr was nicknamed “Australopithecus” by the seniors, Kerr was delighted:
‘So they think I'm a local old-timer!’
Archibald's mother died before he was eighteen. For some reason, he wasn't too worried about it. But he was very indignant when Martha moved with things in his father's room.
‘Do you want to live with a servant as a wife? Are you crazy, father?’
"Hey, you can only hear bad children in the house!’ his father answered, looking at him strangely. ‘While you're in my house, don't you dare shout and tell me what to do! I wish I'd broken a few sticks on you when you were little!’
For the first time in their lives they had a fight. Archibald was yelling at his father:
‘The sooner I get out of here, the better! I don't want to live like you! I don't want to be like you, either outwardly or inwardly!’
John senior could barely contain his anger:
‘Well, son, you have your way, follow it. But do not forget the old truth: walking on the bones of your loved ones, you will reach your own bones…’
He didn't want to go home after school. The city had recently started trams, and he rode around the city until late at night. He had seen many wonderful things.
He drove to the huge tea warehouse on the riverbank, walked across the bridge to the southern part of the city, sat for a long time on the parapet, waiting for a passenger train to crawl over the next bridge. A small locomotive with a long chimney usually pulled six or seven cars. The windows of the first two glowed with lights, it was first class. Kerosene lamps glinted in the windows of the next cars. And at the end of the train were the prisoners. The barred windows of their cars were dark, and armed soldiers stood on the platforms.
Archie would take the tram again and go all the way to the turnpike, skirting the city on the other side. There were endless wharves and warehouses, ships and docks. It was a different life where the tram brought him. There were no tall houses or clear streets. Here were the tents of the newcomers in search of happiness, and across the road, in a deep ravine hundreds of convicts were washing gold.
They stood in a solid wall, shoulder to shoulder, on either side of this ravine, at the bottom of which flowed a small river. They scooped clay earth into the trays and passed it down the chain to those who stood knee-deep in water and washed the trays, and then passed them to the other side, above. There they were received by the same slaves, and already they poured into bags what was left in the trays, and loaded the bags onto carts. Horses, camels, oxen were waiting for their draught fate…
It was a ghastly sight, hundreds of people in the wild crowding and utter silence swarming like ants in the muddy ground. And from above, armed British soldiers in red uniforms looked down on them and grinned merrily.
‘Hey, boy, what are you so interested in here?’ one shouted. ‘You want a uniform and a rifle, too? So you go ahead and sign up, we need volunteers!’
The soldier began to whistle what sounded like a “Moonlight Sonata”. Archie walked away in silence. He got on the tram and went home. Every soldier is a Beethoven, he thought, secretly envious of the red coats.
The return journey took more than two hours. His father didn't look for him – didn't even ask where he was. And Martha had never had the right to ask.
The next time he also saw the amazing: a whole herd of strange birds rushed past him with wild speed. They weren't exactly ostriches – he had seen ostriches in the zoo. But they did not look like swans either – for their short black necks protruded from their powerful bodies, which were covered with yellow-straw feathers. These creepy monsters grunted louder than adult pigs. They went like a train, leaving a cloud of dust behind them.
And the next day two red kangaroos fought beside Archie. About ten of them were grazing peacefully behind the outermost huts, when suddenly another animal flew over the fences jumping, found the main one in the peaceful family-and began to beat him at once with both front paws. And then, leaning on its thick tail, it raised its hind legs and swung them so that it almost ripped open its opponent's stomach.
‘He'll kill him!’ Archie cried, grabbing a thick stick from the ground, rushed to separate them.
‘Stop!’ somebody's rough hand grabbed him by the collar.
Archie twisted, but didn't drop the stick. Before him stood a bearded man in a turban, looking like a camel driver.
‘Hey, drop the stick!’ the bearded man said. ‘Don't you know they can cripple a man?’
‘He's going to kill him!’
‘You're not local, are you?’
‘Local! They even call me Australopithecus at school!’
‘This is a different conversation!’ laughed the camel driver. ‘But I'll tell you it's more of a game than a fight.’ They both realize that the freedom to swing a fist at someone else's nose ends where that nose begins. See, the old kangaroo won't fight back? And young only pretends to be at war. He tests the old one: will he give up the slack, will he give up the main place in the herd. If the old heroically survive the attacks of the newcomer-the test will end with the victory of the old…’
‘And if he retreats, he loses?’
The bearded man laughed again.
‘Kangaroos don't know how to back up, that's something our army should learn from them. And let's get down to business-do you want to help me?’
For three hours Archie helped the bearded man load the sacks. As the camel-train started, the bearded man said:
‘Come here tomorrow – make more money.’
It was the first shilling earned in the life of Archibald Clark Kerr. He would no longer steal change from his father. He grew up.
Then he had to work part time on ships in the harbor and with gold miners. He graduated from school among the best. His father tried to talk to him about further studies, but the conversation again failed. Archie just drove across the river in silence and came home in the dark. That night he had his first taste of whiskey with the longshoremen.
Days, weeks, months passed. He wanted a change – and the change was not long in coming.
…Of course, and so you can start a novel about an interesting man, Archibald Kerr, a British diplomat. But all that has been said above is invented. In fact, his life and adventures do not need speculation. All that will be said below is true. If not, the author will have to apologize. Everything described below is based on real events, and discrepancies in names, dates, facts and phenomena are most likely accidental.