Sweet Waters

Harold Nicolson


Sweet Waters

Harold Nicolson


Sweet Waters is a gripping novel set on the banks of the Bosphorous in old Istanbul. Beneath the surface sparkle of the waters there are deep and dangerous currents at play. These are the last years of the intrigue-ridden Ottoman Empire. Political intrigue and blackmail, love, friendship and ambition – all are tested as Balkan troops close in on the beleaguered city.

Sweet Waters contains magical descriptions of Istanbul before it was transformed into the bustling metropolis of today and a fiction- alised description of Harold falling in love with Vita Sackville-West. It is a political thriller, a love story and a travel book in one.

‘The book contains some splendid descriptions of Constantinople in the dying days of the Sultanate.’ - Philip Zeigler, Daily Telegraph
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Sweet Waters: An Istanbul Adventure
Foreword by: Nigel Nicolson
Biographical afterword by: Ariane Bankes
ISBN: 978-1906011-07-9
Format: 208pp demi pb
Place: Turkey


Author Biography

Harold Nicolson was born in Tehran in 1884. His father was a diplomat and the young Harold spent much of his childhood in Turkey, Spain and Russia. Educated at Oxford, Harold Nicolson joined the diplomatic service in 1909, attending the Versailles Peace Conference as a junior Foreign Office Official in 1919.

Nicolson, now married to Vita Sackville-West, embarked on a literary career during which he was to publish some forty books. He was briefly associated with Oswald Mosley, editing the newspaper of Mosley's New Party in 1931 but stopping his support upon the formation of the British Union of Fascists in 1932. In 1935 Nicolson was elected as National Labour Member of Parliament for West Leicester, sitting in the Commons until his defeat in the 1945 General Election.

His books include biographies of Alfred Tennyson (1923) and Lord Byron (1924),Peacemaking 1919 (1933), The Congress of Vienna (1946), and The Age of Reason(1961). Sweet Waters (1921) is one of only two novels he wrote (the other being Public Faces). Harold Nicolson died in 1968.

Extract from Chapter One

She spoke to her daughter in the languid French of the Levant. She said: “Eirene, you must come in now, my little one; you must come in, and you must close the window.”Eirene stepped back listlessly into the room. She closed the upper half of the window and pushed the bolt: she then released the lower sash from the brackets which supported it: the sound of the waves was hushed suddenly as the frame slid home in its socket. “There is a breeze to-night,” she said: “it comes straight across from Kavak; it is quite cool upon the balcony.”

 “Yes, it is cooler to-night,” her mother answered, “but you know that I do not like to have that window open. It makes a draught and the lamps smoke. Why even now, you see, little one, the shade is shaking——”; she pointed to the pink silk fringe which swayed gently against the lamp-light. “You see, little one?” she repeated.

 “I see, mother,” Eirene answered; “yes, it is better with that window closed, we can open the others upon the garden: the magnolia is not in flower yet, it will not give you a headache.”

 Her mother was lying on the sofa with the large lamp behind her: she was reading an illustrated paper, and the light cast across the page the oblique shadow of her piled and tidy hair. Eirene stood for a moment looking down upon her. She noted, half unconsciously, the unwonted gracelessness of her mother’s pose, the stiff-sleeved elbows holding up the paper, the two tight-buttoned feet protruding rigidly upon the cushion. At her scrutiny the little white thumb that held the paper jerked in irritation. “May I play something?” asked Eirene.

 “As you like, my little one,” her mother answered, and she cut out irritably between the glossy pages of her paper. The sheets had stuck together. It was so damp there in the old house by the water.

 Eirene turned back into the shadows of the wide, low room. The felt of her bedroom slippers made no noise upon the matting. She let her hands rest listlessly upon the cool lid of the piano.

 She closed her eyelids and sought again to catch the thread of sensation which had begun to vibrate for her out there upon the balcony. Her mother’s voice had snapped it suddenly; and yet, she remembered, it had been interesting, stimulating in a way; yes, even after she was back in the room she had felt a small fibre of her heart still glowing. It had not been a thought exactly; it had not been as definite as a thought, and yet it had possessed an outline. It had been distinct and stimulating, as a puff of night wind from the Black Sea: now she was gaining it again; the Black Sea, that sudden line of horizon between the two capes of Europe and of Asia. It was noon, and she had climbed up to the cliff, the cliff behind the garden, and she had lain down among the thyme and gum cistus; how silent it had been up there, how hot and silent—not even the trilling of the crickets in the sand! The sun beat down upon the soft and steaming hills, uniting everything into one fierce and intent monotone. The smell of crushed thyme startled the silence as the scream of a hawk. In the little village down there by the water the dogs lay panting in the shadows, twitching at the flies which clustered at the edges of their sores. Suddenly the clatter of a barrel-organ had sprung up from the quay-side; gaily, buoyantly it had soared up to her, some old Greek love song set to the swing and flutter of the Phrygian mode. On and on the tune had whirled, clean-cut against the captive somnolence of nature, presumptuous and virile, gay and unremitting. Eirene had laughed; a lizard, grey as its shadow on the stone, flicked back into the dappled bushes. Again Eirene laughed; shading her eyes she looked out to where the clear horizon of the Black Sea drew its cool line between the hills. How seldom she laughed! It was that, really, which had stirred her consciousness. She had been thinking of it on the balcony, when the breeze began to blow. Why could she not laugh—suddenly, defiantly, as the Greek tune had laughed? Her throat tightened for the experiment, and then relaxed. No, she would startle her mother. Her mother would say, “Mon Dieu! My child, how you startled me!” Her hand, quick at the exploitation of a grievance, would fly to her heart. “How you startled me!” her mother would say.

Eirene opened the lid of the piano, and her hands dropped gently upon the cool glimmer of the keys.