This scene is from the first chapter. Katya's Uncle went cap in hand to the British Consultate and managed to persuade the good Lieutenant to take Katya, overland, to Gilgit in northern India, in order to get her to safety before the Soviet tanks move in to crush General Ma's rebellion.
The peacock called out again and the rising breeze brought with it, the flat, salty tang of the desert. The dripping, dying fountain was a forlorn whisper in the courtyard. Uncle Sergei poured out more wine and Katya was uncomfortable under their guest’s stare. She was relieved when Anasa brought in the lamb. The room was full of noise again. Her uncle made a big thing of carving the lamb while her aunt passed around the bowls of rice and vegetables. For a while there was no sound except for the chink of silverware on china and the distant wailing of a singer from somewhere in the dusty maze of the Muslim Quarter, night was settling on Kashgar. The lamb was rich with spices and Katya resolved to beg Anasa for the recipe before she left. She wanted something to take away with her that would remind her of all that had been good about this adventure.
Dessert was a plate piled high with the produce of the market place, wedges of sweet melon, peaches and cherries. The conversation drifted from tennis, to orchards and the bazaar. Uncle Sergei brought the vodka out. Katya watched their guest carefully. In the few weeks she’d been in Kashgar, she’d seen a few dinner guests felled by her Uncle’s vodka and his endless toasts. The Lieutenant would have to be made of strong stuff to walk out of the house unaided after an evening with Uncle Sergei and his vodka.
He downed the first two shots with ease. Katya decided that this, alone, was impressive because most people’s eyes watered after the first, firey shot.
Katya helped herself to a few cherries and watched the toasts and the shots progress. Uncle Sergei’s eyes were narrow, tired slits by the seventh. Aunt Tanya’s fingers drummed on the lace tablecloth, a whispering, impatient tattoo as she waited for the inevitable conclusion. The Lieutenant finished the eighth shot after a toast to the peacock who still called out in the sullen, sleepy warmth of the evening. His brown eyes were still clear and his Russian fluent.
“To my niece, Yekaterina.” Her Uncle’s words were beginning to slide together. “A brave, beautiful and wonderful girl.” He slammed the empty glass onto the table and grinned. “A safe journey home, my dear.”
“I’ll drink to that.” The Lieutenant winked at her and drained his glass.
Katya blushed and arranged the cherry pits into a circle on her plate. She murmured her thanks and stared at the gnawed melon rinds.
Uncle Sergei poured the ninth with an unsteady hand.
“To a wonderful evening,” The Lieutenant said. “In the best company I’ve enjoyed for a long time.”
“Hear, hear.” Her uncle finished the shot in one gulp and slid inelegantly to the floor.“Katya, darling,” Her Aunt sighed. “You had better ask Asana to fetch Tughluk.