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This article is taken from PN Review 263, Volume 48 Number 3, January - February 2022.

The Thames by Night Horatio Morpurgo

‘Wherever the storm carries me, I land as a guest’

The painter, a Belgian refugee, welcomed his friend and added some final touches before handing over the canvas. The friend’s wife had given birth earlier that day – this could only be a flying visit – but walking to the window, he held this gift up to the light, admiring, and promised to take care of it. This was April 1918. The building in which that artist rented his space is long-gone. The newly-arrived child was my grandmother by the time I met her, sitting in an armchair at the far end of the century. She had been an actress once. There were publicity shots and stories about her beautiful reading voice. But I knew her as a watchful, elderly enigma and the picture as a kind of companion piece to that enigma.

She had her strange name, Kippe, from a Belgian village which was the scene of an important battle fought the same day. The Thames by Night had hung in every home she’d ever lived in. It hung at last above the fireplace in a converted mews in Shepherd’s Bush, where I finally came to know her as well as I ever would.

His arm in hers, grandfather Jack shuffled at her side as she steered him across the front room after supper. On arrival at his armchair, she murmured something and he let go, felt for the arm-rests, then turned and dropped gamely between them, reaching for his ...

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