Novel Preview: The Celebration Husband
The fifth of August, 1914, was the day that Tanya Rungsted’s husband, Baron Isak von Brantberg, avalanched into the drawing room with the heart-stopper that England and Germany were at war.
“Whatever for?” Tanya asked, once she regained her breath.
“You have me there,” Isak shrugged.
Isak’s response made Tanya wonder if she’d overreacted to the news of the war. “The colonies won’t fight,” she hazarded.
“Kenya is fighting,” he corrected her. And without further discussion, he rumbled off to a meeting of the Swedish settlers, convened to decide whether they should volunteer their services to the leanly-staffed and ill-prepared British Army.
The Swedish settlers’ farms, their families, their investments (both of finances and of passions) – all were embedded in British East Africa, which had welcomed European settlers of all nationalities under the auspices of the Empire. Now that its German neighbor to the south, Tanganyika, menaced Kenya, the Swedish settlers stoked their fighting instincts and rushed to her defense.
Isak joined an ad hoc, “irregular” military unit. His commander was Lord Delamere, the leading nobleman of the British colonists. The unit’s mission was to defend the border. As the border was more than 750 kilometers long, and the unit had twenty-four men, Lord Delamere hoped to enlist the aid of native Masai warriors as scouts and guards.
About the eruption that, within thirty-six hours, took her newlywed husband from her and to a situation of deadly risk, Tanya knew nothing more.
* * *
A week after Isak departed, he sent Tanya a telegram:
Must see you and your superb parts, wrists, etc. Go to Kijabe railway station. Telegraph babu an idiot, his job is yours. It will be fun.
Reading the telegram, Tanya flushed with contradictory emotions. She was elated at Isak’s ardor and simultaneously mortified at his references to the carnal. But however much she cringed, picturing the numerous eyes that must have been privy to this telegram, she was also proud to be identified (almost publicly) as a compelling beauty.
Her pride, however, was quickly offset by her despondent suspicion that Isak had sent the telegram from the Kijabe railway station. Whoever the poor Indian telegraph operator was – in (racist) colonial parlance, “Babu” – he was not going to be her champion. Never mind that she knew nothing about telegraph machines.
Nevertheless, the most important fact was that Isak wanted to see her. Eventually, that imperative emerged implacable through the emotional uproar, and Tanya bolted from her chair. She waved the telegram, rushed around the house, and – between many confusing and astonishing remarks – ordered Hassan to pack their effects.
“Memsahib?” Hassan blinked, uncharacteristically baffled.
“You are joining the army?”
“Volunteering. Like Bwana Isak.”
“You are a Baroness,” he objected, arms folded over his chest.
“Bwana Isak is a Baron.”
“You are a lady.”
“Who owes obedience to her husband. Bwana Isak told me to go.”