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As time goes by

For the last week or so I have been fighting a nasty case of pneumonia. I have had this a couple of times so I’m familiar with the progress from first sniffle to the current antibiotic fueled surge of feeling better. As some of you know I have a compromised immune system…have had for the last fifteen years. This makes me susceptible to nasty things that float through the air, or linger on surfaces. I had my flu shot and took the usual precautions but every now and then the micro biological world sneaks in and hammers me.

I’m no longer a spring chicken and I really feel the back aches, joint pain, never mind bone rattling coughs and disrupted sleep. I don’t imagine I’m the most pleasant spouse under these circumstances. What really bothers me the most is watching my darned grass get longer and thicker. I should have cut it a week ago, but I was too sick and my back was in no shape to climb aboard the John Deer . I also have some holes that need to be filled with eight foot fence posts. Right now they’re soggy with water and will have to wait. I know the deer are just salivating at the thought of tasty grape buds, not to mention my fledgling veggie garden. Fortunately, there is so much lush greenery for the taking, that my makeshift fencing has kept them away.

I am a grand father again. My daughter produced twins a couple of weeks back. Sam and Ruby were a little early arriving, but have been working frantically at catching up.. eating, sleeping, and pooping … Nana has been taking turns with the other grandma in supporting the new mum. My medical predicament has  severely curtailed grandfather participation, but then I’m not overly excited about resurrecting diapering skills. The last time I changed one was at least a quarter century ago. Apparently the technology has changed since those endless washer/dryer and folding maneuvers of bygone ages. I haven’t actually had any hands on refresher, due to my contagious status, but that to will come about in the fulness of time.

The one individual who is most effected by my pneumonia is our old dog. He looks longingly at me every morning at what would normally be walk time. I ‘m not allowed to do our regular three kilometer circuit. The boss, in the next room practicing piano, has put the kibosh on any physical activity beyond walking up to check the mail and bringing down the weekend morning paper.

All I’m allowed to do is watch the grass grow and bide my time.grandpa

Last week my old Dad died. He was in his ninety-second year and he went in classic Hollywood style. On the evening of his death he mentioned to his caregiver in the veterans home whose halls he prowled, that he was feeling tired and would like to go to bed early. With assistance he changed, got tucked into bed, and then looked up at the caregiver saying, “thank you and good night”. Dad closed his eyes, drew two deep breaths, and died.

He met his end in a way that most of us would envy…no pain, in the presence of familiar company, and having lived a long and full life. He was part of what Tom BrowKaw wrote of as The Greatest Generation.Raised during the depression he was thrifty to the point of obsession. When I cleaned out the basement, after assuming occupancy of the old house, I found a huge box of burned out light bulbs…after all they might be useful. This instruction by example rubbed off on me, not that I hoard burned out light bulbs but, we run a financially responsible home and have passed this on to our children.

His good name was a matter to be protected. He was not one to mince words and spoke his mind, occasionally to his own detriment, but always promoting a cause he felt was just and right. He had the courage to follow his convictions in areas where others might flag. However, he wasn’t vengeful and stressed forgive and forget, a creed I try to live by.

Dad lived a life of public service. Starting with the Second War, he was a naval officer for twenty five years until the ‘ill-conceived Unification experiment’ drove him to resign his commission rather than “wear Hellyer’s despised green uniform”. This was followed by another twenty years in the federal civil service within the HMC Dockyard in Esquimalt BC where his career began.

As we aged, a gradual swapping of roles occurred from care giver to dependent and back. Towards the end he would clutch my arm as we navigated over any terrain other than a smooth flat surface. His mind, though sharp, was subject to an ever decreasing short term of memory. At least now I won’t have to answer a predictable series of repetitive questions.

Dad loved life and I loved him. Death is inevitable and he has embraced it. The other certainty of life is taxes. I’m about to face up to them as I probate his will.

book cover - dragon2

At long last the book is now on line. It is available for kindle at Amazon books and for all other electronic devices at Smashwords.com. (to find it at smashwords deactivate the adult filter)

This is my second novel and I am presently working on a sequel to my first book Pacific Flyways, also available everywhere electronically. I hope you enjoy both. If you do, please write a short review to encourage other browsers to have a look.

Thank you for reading my Blogs

Here is the next chapter of the novel. I have been busy and the complete manuscript should be arriving at Amazon and Smashwords very shortly. Once again I apoligize for the awkward formatting. The actual online versions will be professionally presented.
Chapter 4
Chinese Christian School
Victoria, B.C.
After Constable Barnsdall left, Wynn resumed teaching, trying not to think about the banner and those who placed it. The children hadn’t seen it and Wynn was determined that they would not learn about the incident. She struggled to focus on daily routine and was glad when the final bell of the day sounded. That night, she confided with her father.
“It was monstrous! How could ghosts arrive to plague us? Why now after all these years? What’ve I done to deserve this outrage?”
Wynn’s father shook his head. “My dear, I’d hoped this would never again confront us, surely not here at home. What did the authorities say?”
“The police sent a Constable Barnsdall, who apparently served in China as a military man during the uprising. He was very understanding but frankly, I wasn’t too impressed. He can barely speak the language and the locals don’t seem to respect him. He was very pleasant and assured me of police support but his presence didn’t inspire confidence. However, the bright side is that he mentioned a fellow constable who also has Chinese experience. This man apparently speaks their language and I’ve heard some of the Chinese merchants speak favourably of him. The police officer’s name is Duncan. I don’t believe I’ve met him but some of my students call him Da Jingcha, which as you know means ̔ big cop’. I think he must be superior.”
Wynn’s father sat back from the table placing his knife and fork on his empty plate.

“Yes, if the children refer to him by that title it tells me that their parents hold the officer in some degree of esteem. Let’s hope that he is culturally aware enough to work with the Law and Order Mandarin of the Benevolent Association. If Duncan can do that, then truly he will be able to root out the evil beings that placed the banner. I know that Jin Jiang, head of the Canadian Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association is no friend of the Boxers. I spoke with him just last week; he is most concerned with the arbitration and maintenance of order within his community. Feuding of any sort, especially from overseas, will hamper struggles against discrimination by Europeans. The last thing he or the Benevolent Association want is a revival of Boxer extremism.”

The Reverend smiled at his daughter.“Jiang was most grateful, by the way, for your lobbying efforts with the Victoria City Hall and the Provincial government in the cause of eliminating the opium factories. Jiang is a wise man who sees nothing but misery for his community if the trade continues. He asked me to express his thanks in this matter.”
Wynn’s face flushed and she slammed her hand on the table.

“If only some of the fat European merchants in Victoria, who profit from the trade in that poison, could be brought to account! I’m sorry, Father but the ignorance of some people is abysmal. Can’t they see the destruction of the human spirit this drug brings?”
“It’s not as simple as that, Wynn, dear. Most of these people don’t view our Chinese brethren as being on a par with us. The demons of discrimination are major obstacles the Chinese will have to wrestle with, for many generations.”
Wynn lay in bed later that night thinking about her day. The specters from her childhood loomed amongst the shadows in her bedroom and she had to force down fear. She turned to prayer and peace settled over her. Just as she was drifting off to sleep, she wandered into a fantasy of speculation about ‘her’ constable, wishing he was the one assigned to help her. Wynn imagined his strong arms protecting her from the Boxer scourge, whisking her away to a safe haven of love and security. Her thoughts melded into erotic dalliance and stirred the warmth of physical response. Wynn curled into a ball and surrendered to release of pleasant, naughty thoughts, then slept.
The following morning the temperature in her bedroom was decidedly cold. Outside, solid frost shimmered on the grass, lacing the edge of puddles. A leaden sky spoke of a fair chance of snow. It was Saturday and Wynn was tempted to delay leaving the comfort of her bed, but reluctantly she dragged herself out into the cold. School reports for the government beckoned. As she approached the school, she saw friend Kung busy scrubbing the boardwalk in front of her building on his hands and knees. Evidently he was trying to obliterate some writing splashed in red paint.
“Oh, Teacher I was hoping you would not see this… someone has written another foul message. I will not tell you the meaning but it is evil and has no place in this community. I will speak of this to the Benevolent Association this morning. The chill in the air is nothing compared to the ice in the hearts of those who wrote this. I fear for your safety, Teacher. May your gods protect you.”
“I refuse to be intimidated! I’ll be right back to help you remove that slogan after I renew my presence with our local constabulary.” Wynn headed up the street towards the police station. Suddenly she stopped and turned to Kung. “On second thought, don’t erase any more of the message. I have a plan. Don’t do anything until I return.”
Wynn tugged open the heavy door to the police station and quickly slipped past its brass kick plate. A gust of warm air embraced her as she unwound her scarf, removed her mittens, then approached the main desk. A clerk sat where the Sergeant had been on her previous visit.
“I would like to talk with the Sergeant, please. Winifred Paxton is my name and I spoke to him just recently.”
“Sergeant McTaggart is busy with the morning duty parade,” replied the clerk, “but he’ll only be a few moments. Would you care to have a seat?”
Wynn found a bench next to the front door as the clerk disappeared into a back room. After unfastening her coat, she noted that the clerk had reappeared.
“Someone will be with you in just a moment, madam.”
She smiled and he returned to writing in his ledger. Almost immediately, a figure appeared from the back room and Wynn felt an electric jolt tickle through her body. Standing there was her Constable. She couldn’t pull her gaze from his face, especially his hazel eyes that seemed to lock with hers in a most disconcerting manner.
“I understand you are waiting for me?” he said in a deep resonant voice.
Fleeting thoughts of last night’s fantasy in her bedroom surfaced and Wynn blushed. He can’t possibly know, she thought, desperately hoping her face wouldn’t betray her inner warmth.
“You are Mrs. Paxton,” the constable said, “school master at the Chinese Academy of Learning?”
“Well, yes but how did you know?” she stammered.
“You’ve reported receiving threats. Please, allow me to introduce myself, I’m Constable Redvers Duncan. Sergeant McTaggart has asked me to look into the matter.”
Of course! Wynn had a flash of insight. ‘Get a grip on yourself woman, you’re blithering like an idiot. Just who did you think they were calling ̔big cop’ Wynn straightened her back, self-consciously brushing a hair behind her ear.
“Constable Duncan, at last we meet. I’ve heard good things about you in the Chinese community. Yes, I do have a problem and this morning it has only gotten worse. Could you please accompany me to my school?” After Wynn had readjusted her outer garb, Redvers held the heavy door open. She looked up at him and smiled, “I’ve a plan regarding the threats that I’d like to discuss with you and, by the way, it’s Miss Paxton.”
Redvers and Wynn stepped out from the police station into a very nasty snow squall. The flakes, large and sodden, clung to everything in a sopping mass. Wynn set a fast pace as the pair skirted large slush puddles, crossing Fisgard street.
“How long have you been stationed in Victoria, Constable?”
“A while, Miss, most of it on Chinatown beat. I was in China with the Royal Marines during the Boxer troubles. The chief placed me here because I can relate to the culture better than most, I suppose. At least, I understand a bit of the inner workings.”
Wynn smiled up at him. “My family was in China as well during the rebellion. It cost my mother her health. She was shot by those savages; it led her to an early grave. I respect the Chinese— well not the Boxer rabble—most I find to be hard working and intelligent. I‘ve heard of your reputation from some of my students. They call you Da Jingcha, did you know that?”
Redvers chuckled and hid his embarrassment with a snort and a shrug of his shoulder, clearing a bit of snow from his cape. “Do they? I wasn’t aware of that. They must be referring to my size.”
She smiled up at him. “Oh, you project a formidable profile, Constable and not just among the Chinese.”
Once at the school, Wynn showed Redvers the red lettering on the boardwalk outside its entrance.
“Hmm, this is a warning; it appears to be directed towards your students, advising them not to attend classes.”
Wynn was pleased; this constable really did understand Mandarin, it was just another reason to be intrigued. “As you see, the cowards have taken to threatening children as well as women. I won’t be intimidated and with your help I intend to fight them.”
“You have the backing of the police force, Miss Paxton, and my personal support. The first thing we should do is to erase this message. Let me help.”
“Actually, Constable, I think we should leave it. Furthermore, I want to place a sign in Mandarin myself, prominently located, to proclaim my defiance of these thugs. I’ll not lose face by hiding this scrawl on my boardwalk or shutting myself within the confines of my school, instead I want to stride about the community, demonstrating outrage. I’m confident I’ll find wide support.”
Wynn invited Redvers into the school and then went to the kitchen area where she put on the kettle. As she set out some biscuits, she watched while Redvers moved about the small classroom, examining lesson plans on the chalkboard.
“I should come by for some brushing up on my Mandarin. It has been awhile and my grasp of the script is a bit rusty. Perhaps you might be available to tutor me?”
Wynn’s eyes widened at the thought. “Yes, perhaps we could arrange something.”
“I realize I’m being a bit forward and I apologize but you see I’m most interested in making some inroads within the Chinese Community.”
Wynn stood in the kitchen doorway, arms crossed, as she leaned against the frame. “Very admirable, Constable, what better way to get to know a community than to learn to speak its language. The tea is ready; may I offer you a biscuit?”
The two sat at a table and continued to exchange pleasantries. Redvers glanced out the window and noted a figure leaning against a brick wall across the street, hat shadowing his face, apparently watching them. Wynn was chatting about her plans for the proclamation of defiance, as she termed her planned banner. When Redvers glanced again, the person was gone but a sense of unease disturbed his concentration.
Wynn outlined the intended purpose of her proclamation. “I wish it to show that this isn’t China and that the King’s law rules, even within the boundaries of this community. I was hoping that phrases, such as the cowardly dogs who threaten women and children, lurk in shadows, and do not dare to reveal their faces, might serve just that purpose. Furthermore, with your permission, of course, I’d like to add that this school and I are under the protection of Da Jingcha Duncan. Would that be acceptable?”
Redvers thought about the possible repercussions and then realized this just might help him establish a better community profile. “It might be dangerous but I’m certainly willing to support, as long as you realize the pitfalls.”
Wynn beamed at him. “Then, let’s get to it! I’ll employ formal Mandarin, not the crude, colloquial dialect used by the cowards; I could barely understand what they said. My message will be clearly understood by the whole community.”
That afternoon, Redvers and Kung, the grocer, helped Wynn attach her proclamation in bright red letters above the school entrance. Soon a gathering of merchants and other citizens murmured their approval. Before long, Jin Jiang, head of the Canadian Chinese Benevolent Association, arrived and approached Wynn.
“Teacher, you are clearly a woman of courage. May your God bless and protect you. You have my support and that of the Association.”
Wynn grabbed Redvers by the arm and tugged him closer to Jiang. “Revered one, allow me to introduce Constable Duncan. He is working to keep me safe and my school free from harassment.”
Redvers offered his hand. “I have heard much of you and the Association; I had hoped to meet you personally. I’m working to keep all the citizens of this community safe. It’s an honour to be of assistance.”
“Yes, I have knowledge of you as well, Da Jingcha, perhaps our futures will share a common path?”
###
Redvers made several passes by the school during foot patrols of Chinatown that afternoon. He was quite surprised to find lights on in the building as the afternoon faded. He knocked and stepped into the front entrance. “Miss Paxton, do you always work so late on a Saturday?”
“Oh, Constable, I was just about to lockup and head home. It’s been a busy day but a good one. As I suspected, many of the merchants have dropped by with gestures of support.” She pointed to a table containing cards and messages. Many were marked with bright inked family seals. “It is somewhat overwhelming. I can’t wait to tell my father, speaking of which, I must hurry. He’s very particular about meal time punctuality and doesn’t like me venturing out after dark by myself.”
“Would you allow me to escort you home? It’s part of my duty to ensure the safety of citizens.” Redvers stared directly into her brown eyes, this time she met his gaze.
The snow had stopped, only a slight dusting remained mostly in areas where the sporadic afternoon sunshine was unable to reach. The pair arrived at the Paxton residence much too soon for Wynn’s liking, their animated conversation interrupted in midstream. As they stood on the porch, the front door opened and the Reverend Mr. Paxton looked out.
“Oh, Father, you startled me!’ said Wynn. “Constable Duncan, this is my father.”
Redvers immediately spotted the white neck-collar of a clergyman and removed his helmet.

“Good evening Padre.”
“Is everything alright, Winifred?” asked the Reverend. “Has there been trouble at your school again?”
“There was a bit but no, Father, nothing to be concerned about. Constable Duncan accompanied me so I wouldn’t have to walk alone in the dusk.”
Reverend Paxton nodded at Redvers. “Thank you for escorting my daughter, Constable. I worry about her on the street alone at night. Won’t you come in for a moment?”
“Thank you, Padre but just for a moment, I must continue my patrols, I’m on duty for a while yet.” Redvers tucked his pith helmet under his arm and stepped over the threshold. Wynn closed the door and disappeared down the hall, shedding her coat.
There was a moment of awkward silence and then Reverend Paxton spoke up, “I saw you in church a few Sundays ago, if I am not mistaken. Will we see you again this week?”
“I am afraid not, Padre. I have patrol duties tomorrow morning, perhaps next week.”
Wynn returned to the foyer, apparently she’d been fussing with her appearance as she was wearing a bright scarf and had put her hair up. She snuggled close to her father, hugging his arm. “Can I fix you a cup of tea, Constable Duncan?”
Redvers paused, opened his mouth and then closed it then straightened his collar, “Actually, thank you but no, I must be on my way. Sorry about being abrupt but I do have some duties to attend to before the end of shift so, perhaps another time? I’ll be in touch.” He placed the helmet on his head. “Good evening then, Padre. Miss Paxton.”
###
Not all reaction to Wynn’s proclamation of defiance was positive. In an upper room on the south edge of Chinatown, two figures lay on cots, sullenly passing an opium pipe between them.
“Our European friend is a fool. The woman is fiercer than we had anticipated and the reception she is receiving is alarming. Worse, she seems to have allied herself with Da Jingcha Duncan. Instead of solving the problem, we may have provided her more credibility and brought additional difficulty to our business. When word of this reaches the old country, there will be trouble. The Tong Lord will be displeased.”
After a moment of drug-addled silence, his companion grunted. “Maybe now, Long Nu will understand, and we will be allowed to solve the problem our way.”

Since the last tidbit I have been busy harvesting grapes, apples, and Quince. Busy times on the Peninsula and why I haven’t been a punctual as I might with ‘Dragon’ chapters. My brother in law reminded me today that I have been remiss _” where is my next chapter??'” _

So David and all my other readers here is the next installment… Enjoy
Incidentally please excuse the bizarre formatting . I can’t seem to make the translation from proper novel style on to this blog.

Chapter 3

Seattle Ship Yards
Washington State

Brody Lynch stood with hands on hips, gazing at the iron skeleton cigar-shaped craft before him. “She’s a thing of beauty, don’t you agree, Con?” His brother set down blueprints and joined him, admiring the framed ribs on the work floor of the Seattle Dry dock and Construction Company.
“For certain, Brody, she’s a work of art but the devil’s behind her conception, designed only to destroy.”
“Well, that suits me fine,” snorted Brody. “As long as it’s directed the right way, she may be conceived by the devil but God has placed her in our path.”

***

Brody’s face darkened as he thought of his mother. The family had gathered around while the doctor spoke of medicines and fresh country air, all things that were beyond their economic grasp. An English landlord’s demands for a king’s ransom in rent had driven them from their small cottage on the north Irish coast. With the money from the sale of household goods, they moved to the slums of Londonderry. The air, foul with industrial slag, had taken their mother to an early grave.
Brodie and his twin fought hunger and other desperate urchins, growing hard and ruthless. Whenever employment opportunities hinted of hope, hated protestant employers, backed by British owners, shattered their father’s chances of advancement. He became a bitter drunkard while the brothers wavered between menial jobs and unemployment.
Upon reaching majority, they bid farewell to kin, escaping on a merchant steamer for Boston. After miserable weeks, they discovered comfort and companionship with Clan no Gael (CNG), a Republican Irish-American society of exiled, frustrated Irish nationalists. Instinct for survival drove them, as much as hatred for the British. The brothers blossomed as tradesmen at New England shipyards; Brody, a diesel mechanic and Con a marine electrician. They faithfully sent money home, and regularly attended meetings of the CNG.
As their kinsmen in Ulster chafed under the thumb of British Home Rule, Con and Brody worked deeper into the political core of the CNG. Determined to break the British stranglehold on Irish independence, they pledged themselves to direct action; eventually this put them in the submarine yard on the Canadian West Coast.

***

While the brothers were admiring the submarine, a company boss came onto the floor shepherding a covey of brightly-festooned military figures from South America. They paused, the boss addressing the visitors, as a translator rattled on in Spanish.
“These boats are one hundred and forty-four feet in length, with a beam of fifteen feet and a draught of eleven feet. Two have been ordered by the government of Chile. Each submarine has a surface speed of twelve knots, driven by a three-hundred horsepower diesel. Submerged, the craft hunt at ten knots propelled by one-hundred and thirty horsepower electric dynamic motors. These submarines mount four torpedo tubes in a rotating forward chamber, much like a giant revolver. The first two vessels are complete, tied to the dock and awaiting a muster of crews to sail south. We’ll visit them in a moment. The third, lying before you, lags behind while architects work on a few modifications, requested by the Peruvian navy.”
As the South American brass filed out of the work shed, Con whispered to his brother, “What a bunch of garish buffoons but never mind, have you heard the rumours?”
“The ones about non-payment for the first boats? Yes, but I don’t know if this is true. Mind you, the boats sit idle at our docks instead of heading south.”
“We’d better check with our friends in Victoria,” suggested Brody. “Perhaps they know more, besides I could stand a visit to the hotel and the fair ladies, how about you, Con?”
“Aye, ‘twas an interesting trip last time. I’m sure we could renew old acquaintances.” He clapped his twin on the back giving him a wink. Just then, the yard boss yelled, “Quit shooting the breeze you slack assed paddies. Get back to work and stuff the blarney!”
“The bloody sod is always on me arse like a wet diaper,” muttered Brody, as he gave the boss a middle finger salute behind his back. “One day, I’ll have my reckoning. Just wait and see Con. Just wait.”

###

The Schweizerhoff Hotel, located in downtown Victoria, was a magnet for sailors who had often been at sea for months. It was a modest brick and plaster structure, boasting a Bavarian tavern in the basement. Rooms on the second floor catered to those seeking the charms of a staff of appealing young women, who were more than willing to ease the pain of enforced celibacy. A great number of His Majesty’s Royal Navy habitually ascended the hotel’s grand presidium staircase. Horst and Gabrielle, the owners, were established members of the downtown community, some ten years into the business. With the onset of Horst’s dreaded disease, shortly after their arrival, Gabrielle assumed most duties. Discretion was her hallmark. None of the staff engaged in displays of public drunkenness or other lascivious behaviour. Only a few of the citizens of British Columbia’s capitol realized the nature of the Schweizerhoff’s main revenue. Politicians frequented the house and the local constabulary ignored transactions on its second floor.
Gabrielle Rader stood by, patiently watching while Horst struggled to match letters with numbers scribbled on a scrap of paper.
“Won’t be much longer now, mein Liebling,”said Horst. “Ah, Berlin expects the two armoured schooners, Lenor and Oregon, to make contact here early in the summer. They’ll be the final components of our Pacific squadron. The Lenor is bringing spare parts for our transceiver as well as the base components for the Paraguay detachment. With any luck, we’ll all be up and running by autumn.”
Gabrielle rested her hands on her husband’s shoulders sighing involuntarily. Before her toiled a shrivelled shadow of a man. The Wasting Disease had robbed him of his muscular build and ramrod stature, bold physical qualities that once marked him as a Commander in the Kaisers’ Imperial Navy. “My dear, all you have worked for will be in place,” she said. “The Kaiser will be well served but please don’t over tax yourself. Once this is finished, you must rest.”
“I promise, Liebling. Allow me to get everything ready and I’ll do my part. It’s a small role but nonetheless a contribution to His Majesty. Run along and see to the staff, our contacts inform me that a Cruiser is due in port and there’ll be an abundance of sea weary men to accommodate.”
“I have matters well in hand, Horst.” She handed him an envelope. “This just came. I see it has a Seattle post mark.” She watched as his bent fingers wrestled with the seal.
“I shouldn’t doubt your abilities, my dearest. Dammed fingers! Here, please open this bloody thing.” Gabrielle deftly opened the letter and passed it to her husband. She watched as he absorbed the message then sat staring out the far wall.
“The Chileans are muddying the waters,” said Horst. “There’s delay in concluding financial transactions and wrangling over specifications on the submarines which could have bearing on our plans; I’ll have to notify the Admiralty. Our Irish friends have requested a meeting here in Victoria.”
Gabrielle felt her pulse quicken. She crossed the room and drew back the curtain, studying the street below. “I suppose we could put them up for a day or so, I’m sure their presence won’t be a bother.”
“Splendid, I’ll write and extend an invitation.” Horst took out a fresh sheet of stationery and shot a look at his wife. “We can put them up in the Royal Suite.” Gabrielle continued to stare out the window, twirling a lock of hair between her fingers. “I’ll think of some excuse to tell the house staff.”
As she bustled out of the room, her husband caught the look in her eye but misread it as preoccupation with household matters. Gabrielle was replaying intimate recollections of young, gorgeous male physiques.

###

It was just after midnight when Gabrielle peeked into the bedroom. Horst was sleeping; the bottle of laudanum at his bedside he took to ease pain plaguing his wretched body. Gabrielle sighed at the sight of his emaciated form and thought about the man who used to fill her nights with tender passion. A woman in her middle thirties, she longed for physical intimacy and from time to time, sought other men to satisfy her needs. Initially, these were furtive dalliances but Horst was no fool, he knew his wife was a physical creature.
The pair were agents for Etappendienst, the Intelligence branch of the Imperial German Navy. Posing as Swiss nationals, they successfully disguised their true loyalties to the Kaiser. He turned her carnal drives to their advantage, encouraging Gabrielle to cultivate liaisons with men in key positions. Her pillow talk with military officers provided valuable information about the deployment of British naval forces in the Pacific.
Gabrielle realized that she was not yet ready for sleep, so she quietly closed the bedroom door and descended the stairs to the second floor of their hotel. “Catherine, how are things tonight? I trust your girls are keeping the men of the cruiser satisfied?” Vivacious red-headed Catherine was concierge for the hotel, responsible for the well-being of five women who staffed the Schweizerhoff.
“Yes, Mum, all squared away and shipshape.” The lilt of her Irish brogue filled the hall. “The girls have been busy.” She laughed. “They’ll sleep well tomorrow.”
“Very good,” said Gabrielle. “By the way, we can expect a visit from the twins sometime this month. I know that’ll please you as much as me. Keep this to yourself; you know how important they are.” Gabrielle smiled as she saw the beam on Catherine’s face. A woman of voracious sexual appetite, she had eagerly entertained the guests when they last visited. Gabrielle knew that she and Horst would once again make good use of the secret room with its two-way mirror, adjacent the master bedroom of the Royal suite.
“I’ll be totally discreet, Mum. Not a word, I promise.” She winked at Gabrielle. “Oh, Mum, Joanna brought some interesting news from her scullery job at the Fort. Well, a new Commander has arrived to take charge from Appleby and I’ve asked her to begin enquiries about him. Collins is his name. He’s regular British Forces, and from what she says, is a stickler for discipline. As well, there’s a new Senior Non- Commissioned Officer who is a reservist and a local plod.”
Gabrielle wrinkled her nose. “Plod? What would a Victoria police constable have to do with Fort Rodd Hill? Perhaps he could be of use to us in more than one way, better have Joanna learn more about him.” She waved her hand. “Come on then, let’s check out the goings on downstairs. I feel like a small drink before bed.”
The two women descended the stairway, entering the staff door to the Edelweiss Room. Business was brisk, the blue serge of Canadian and British naval officers dominated several card tables as clusters of men smoked, played cards or chatted. A fire in the corner kept the room cozy. Gabrielle spotted Lieutenant Commander Barclay of the Canadian Naval Service, sitting with two British officers she didn’t recognize.
Barclay waved at the women beckoning them. “Gabrielle, my dear, won’t you join us?” The men stood as Gabrielle and Catherine approached. “Gentlemen, may I introduce our charming hostess and her second in command.” He took Gabrielle’s hand, pulling out a chair. “Ladies, these two officers are old friends of mine, presently from HMS Royal Arthur, Jock McAllister and Brian Clough.”
Gabrielle smiled, especially drawn to Jock; she placed her hand on his forearm. “A Scotsman and so young to be of such rank… is this your first trip to Victoria?” Gabrielle flirted and chatted for a few moments. In this time, she learned that Britain had recalled HMS Royal Arthur, with most other major ships of the Royal navy in the Pacific, to home waters. HMCS Rainbow, the Canadian warship, would become the only significant Commonwealth naval presence in the North Pacific.
“It’s been a charming evening, gentleman but I must excuse myself and check on the rest of my establishment before retiring. Catherine, please don’t feel obliged to leave if you’re of a mind otherwise.” She rose and left the room.
Moments later she tiptoed into her bedroom, careful not to awaken Horst until she was ready for bed. She slipped in, curling up to his warm body and kissed him on the cheek. “Good night, dear. I have some news for you in the morning.” He mumbled an endearment. Gabrielle tenderly stroked his back settling in herself.

In the morning, Gabrielle awoke to find Horst already out of bed. He was shaving when she approached him.
“Good morning, my dear,’ he said. “I slept well last night; it must have been that report which I finally finished. It was such a relief to get it ready for Berlin.” He reached over and encircled her waist drawing her near to him. He wiped the residue of shaving cream from his face and gave her a kiss on the lips. “Hmm, tastes good.” He snaked a hand inside her robe, caressing her soft skin.
“Horst,” she said curtly, batting his hand away, “I have news. I overheard last night that the British are withdrawing all of their capital ships from the Pacific, at least the North Pacific, recalling them to home waters.”
“Really? How interesting, another indication that the British want a war. Why else would the admiralty concentrate the fleet? That is good news. It’ll make things so much easier for our squadron. I’ll have to include this in my report to Berlin.” He gave her another kiss, more intense this time.
Gabrielle ached to abandon herself in his embrace but this would only lead to disappointment and frustration for both of them. After a moment, she pulled away and fastened her robe. Horst sighed and then turned to finish washing his face. His look brought a pang to her heart; she rested her hand on his shoulder and spoke gently. “We’ll have to celebrate with a special breakfast. What shall I make for us?”

###

Joanna McNamara shivered under a heavy cloak as she and the other kitchen staff huddled next to the boiler of a steam launch, heading across Esquimalt harbour towards Fort Rodd Hill. It was almost nine in the morning but the approaching foreshore was only just visible.
“It’s a beast of a morning,” she said to her travelling companions. “I sure prefer working in the summertime, when it isn’t so dreary and this snow doesn’t help.”
Her companions sat sullenly as patches of thick wet snow spattered around them, hissing on the still surface of the ocean. A sailor steering the launch gave her a wink and a nudge, whispering in a subdued voice.
“Joanna, never mind the weather, love, perhaps you should snuggle over next to me. I’ll help keep you warm.”
“Right and whadda ya think your Coxswain would say?” She tossed a glance over her shoulder towards the man sitting in the bow. “I got enough trouble with the new officer in charge of the Fort. Having the Artillery on me arse is one thing; I don’t want to be on the bad side of the Navy, I need my job.”

She was glad when the short trip was over and the launch nudged against the jetty. Snow had not yet settled on the shoreline but as she glanced up to the Fort, she could see that a white shroud was frosting the uppermost reaches of Douglas fir bows. The women gathered in a cluster and quickly shuffled up the path. Joanna hung back a little, planning how she might carry out the instructions given to her earlier that morning as she left the hotel. Get on the good side of the new man in charge. Mum wants to know all about him. Joanna instinctively knew this wasn’t going to be easy. This new man was no drunken old fool; it would take more than a smile and a promise to gain his confidence.
Her first opportunity came at mid-morning when the cook prepared tea for the officer’s mess. Joanna offered to deliver it and whisked away with a large Billie can and the tray of scones before any of the other staff could object. As luck would have it, this morning she was stationed at the main galley only a short walk across an open courtyard to the Major’s office and the Officers’ Mess. She was surprised to find a sentry on duty outside the door.
“Good mornin’. Tea for the officers. Is there something afoot? I haven’t seen a sentry here before.”
The guard grumbled, shaking wet snow from his hat. “Bloody new regulations. The old man wants it this way, says things are too lax around here. Here, let me get the door for you.” Joanna smiled as the heavy oak door opened and she scuttled inside.
A mess steward met her at the foyer. “What have we here? Something tasty no doubt. Take it directly into the serving area, please; I’ll handle it from there.”
Previously, she had served the tea and was a bit taken back to see a white-jacketed mess boy arrive to collect the tray from her. She lingered a bit, sliding into a corner and removing her heavy winter cloak.
“That will be all, thank you, miss.”
“I thought I would serve the tea, Sir. Normally, I do this for the mess.” She looked up at the moustachioed mess steward with genuine surprise.
“No longer,” he said. “Civilian personnel are now restricted in certain areas and the Officers’ Mess is one of them. Be off with you, before an officer shows up and dresses me down for letting you wander.”

Joanna wasn’t used to being dismissed and stood collecting herself on the cold side of the door. She remarked to the sentry, “At least they could provide you some shelter from the elements.” The soldier just grunted and rolled his eyes. She drew her cloak tight, rustled back to the kitchen and button-holed the cook. “Things have really changed around here. Do you know that we aren’t allowed to serve in the Officers’ Mess anymore?”
“That’s right; there’s been a whole lot of changes.” The cook turned from stirring a large vat of soup. “From what I hear, more are due soon. The new Major is a spit and polish man, so you can expect discipline around here to be a lot tighter; at least, that’s the scuttlebutt. That new Staff Sergeant and he were cut from the same cloth. Things’ going to be different, a whole lot different.”

###

Joanna sought out Catherine as soon as she returned to the Schweizerhoff and found her in the office. “Things have changed at the Fort. It’s going to be quite difficult for me to gather information. The new Major has clamped down on all civilians, limiting our whereabouts. I can no longer move among the officers. I’m also restricted to short stays with the NCOs but thank God, I’m still allowed to mingle with the ranks.” She plumped down in a chair. “I don’t know how we’re going to get around this. Mum’ll not be pleased.”
Gabrielle scowled. “We’ll have to seek other measures. Perhaps infiltrate further into their social circles? It’ll be a risk but we must maintain access to military activity, the local Militia can’t be ignored.”
“Yes, Mum, we don’t see too many of them in house, mostly just Navy. Maybe it might be a good move to advertise a card evening in honour of the artillery and engineers at the Fort.”
“Catherine, bloody genius. Horst and I could host a formal dinner for the officers. If we can get the upper echelons involved, the rest’ll follow. I’ll take this idea to Horst straight away.”
Gabrielle bustled upstairs looking for Horst. She found him in his study, bent over a leather bound book whose interior pages contained a copy of the Imperial German Naval code. Horst was methodically transcribing a report onto a sheet of paper. He smiled when his wife entered.
“The wretched antenna has broken again. We have to come up with a better plan other than using the clothes line. The weight of the laundry keeps pulling my connections loose. Besides the Chinese house staff, Mai Ling, in particular, is getting a bit too nosey for my liking. She was tugging at it yesterday and was fussing about my study last week. I propose we string a line around the gutters that will allow unrestricted access. We’ll do this when our friends from Seattle arrive so we won’t have to involve locals.”
“Fine, Horst, I will deal with it but that’s not why I came to see you. I have a wonderful idea of how we might circumvent the enhanced security at the Fort.”

Here is the next installment of my new book. A new character is introduced and the plot begins. Hope you enjoy…

Chapter 2
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
March 1914

“Winifred, please don’t stand there gawking, you’ll let the heat out. The night air is chilly.” The young woman glanced down the cobble street before she shut the door and latched it. “Sorry, Father, I was just checking.
“You were checking to see if that young constable is making his rounds.” The Reverend Mr. Paxton chuckled and peered over his horn rimmed glasses. “I was your age once and I remember things. He’s probably a fine character but I wish he was a regular churchgoer. He’s only been in the Lord’s House once this last month.”
“That’s because of his duties Father. Someone must keep the peace while we’re at prayers.” Wynn didn’t know whether the Constable had duty on Sunday mornings but was sure he had good reasons for his absence and wouldn’t give up on him. At her age, she couldn’t afford to be choosy.
Wynn looked after her father in their small home in Victoria. Her father and mother had been teaching missionaries in China, but when the Boxer Rebellion erupted, they barely escaped to Victoria, where they’d since established a school for Christian converts in the Chinese community. Her father was also an assistant minister at the cathedral. Wynn had helped her mother at the school but, after she died, had assumed all teaching.
Each day she walked to the school in Chinatown and past the Police Station where she first saw her tall and powerful young constable fill the door frame. He had a military bearing and an impression of authority which he emphasized with his handlebar mustache. She saw no wedding ring on his finger and guessed he was in his early thirties. Wynn had seen him on patrol near their house and as his beat included Chinatown, he’d passed the school on a couple of occasions. She was quite taken with him and had even pointed him out to her father at a Sunday morning service in the cathedral.
Wynn bolted the door and controlled her frustration, as she thought of another Sunday evening marking schoolwork and reading in the parlour. She took a last look before she drew the curtain. She felt trapped in a prison of familial duty as solid as the iron bars on police cells. “Supper will be ready soon, Father. Please go and wash up; I’ll set the table in ten minutes.”

###

Early on Monday morning, Redvers Duncan was in the Constables’ room, writing in the police blotter. There’d been some unruly patrons at the saloons on Government Street and the Green Grocer on Market Street had been targeted by an after hour’s visitor. Otherwise his patch was quiet. Langley, the Chief Constable, was a taskmaster so if a serious crime, perpetrated during a constable’s shift, was unsolved after one month, the officer forfeited eight hour’s pay. These simple but harsh rules cut slackers from the police roster.
“Glad to see your hulking form this early morning,” said Redvers as Frank Barnsdall came in. “It was bugger cold last night, especially by the water. But it kept the villains off the street. You look as bright and well fed as a cat.” He grinned, but then realized, “You spent the night at Molly’s place, didn’t you?” He laughed, “Don’t let the Sergeant catch wind or the Lord himself will have to save you from the Chief.”
Molly, a seamstress, lived above the millinery shop on Pandora Street and had captured Barnsdall’s heart. They should have married but Chief Langley insisted single constables complete two years’ service before they married. Frank Barnsdall was on the threshold of that momentous anniversary but the chief would not be pleased with Frank and Molly’s current nocturnal arrangements.
“It’ll all be set right soon, my friend. We’ve published the Marriage Bans, the Chief’s given his blessing and you are my best man. However, you have to resolve one issue.”
“Yes, I know,” Redvers winced, “I’ll have an escort; just give me time.”
“Redvers, you’re not getting any younger. When are you going to find a woman and settle down? Good lord man, enough women give you the eye. You can’t keep flitting from one to another like a humming bird. Molly won’t tolerate a dance hall floozy on your arm at our wedding.”
“Frank, I’m well aware. Damn it, man. I’ve made efforts, I even went to church.” Redvers, determined to change the subject, said, “It doesn’t look good in Europe. The eggheads running things seem bent on war. Blast them! We should have people in power who know what warfare is like. Those bloody stiff upper lip Empire types, have no idea. We know better. We’ve smelled blood and death. I’ll be the first to sign up if they’ll take me but God help us if a shooting war begins.”
Frank didn’t immediately reply but then said, “I’ve seen enough killing to last me a lifetime. This Empire of yours has locked horns with the German crowd, for reasons I cannot fathom. The United States won’t get into it. This is a European matter and nothing to do with us, but I suppose if it came down to it, I would be there for Uncle Sam.”
“Aye, you’ll be in it, Frank,” said Redvers. “An old leatherneck like you won’t resist the call.” Frank shook his head.
“No matter, what happened in our patch last night? That is, if you ventured beyond the guard room?”
Frank and Redvers had been friends for thirteen years, since the Boxer rebellion. After Peking, they went their separate paths. Redvers served on a light cruiser and eventually stationed at the Royal Naval base near Victoria. He fell in love with southern Vancouver Island. It reminded him of his home near the Scottish border. He purchased his discharge and joined the Victoria City Police. Redvers wrote to Frank and told him of the fine country and of his job. Frank was tired of police actions in Central America and it was easy to convince him to settle in Victoria.
“Frank,” said Redvers, “Detective Stevenson is planning another raid on the opium factory on Johnson Street. Unfortunately, this raid, like the others, is only a token effort.”
Frank sighed. “Yes, eventually they’ll have to get serious about stopping opium. The Tongs will get into it because of the money to be made and then the butter will dance around the skittle.”
Redvers looked at his friend. “Frank you know the Tongs aren’t just criminal organizations. They’re social clubs in Chinese society. Family and regional ties designate membership just like in our culture. But, with increased revenue from opium peddling we have to cultivate a friendly ear in Chinatown if we hope to keep things quiet.”

###

After a week of rain, the trees were bare, but the grass was lush and green and made a stark contrast against grey cobblestone and boardwalk. Wynn drew the coat tightly around her throat against the chilly breeze from the harbour. Chen Kung, proprietor of Kung Grocery, across from the school, greeted her. “Good morning, Honoured Teacher. I will light a joss stick that the spirits may grace you this morning.”
She stopped and curtsied, and watched him sweep mud from the boards in front of his open stalls. “Thank you, but the Spirit I worship smiles on me and you every day. He doesn’t need to be welcomed with anything more than a wish from my heart.” She flashed her white teeth at him, smiled and crossed the muddy street.
The red brick school was set back from the street. A wooden veranda, with an upturned facia, covered the double doors but the entry door was on the right-hand side, away from public view. She saw the banner as she crossed the boardwalk. Its’ Mandarin characters were crude, but she knew it was a threat. Wynn tore the banner from the door and strode briskly back to the shopkeeper.
“Kung, look at what someone has nailed on my school door.” She placed the banner in his outstretched hand, and then inhaled sharply as she saw his shocked face.
“This is bad, very bad, Teacher. Your spirit will have to be very powerful to keep you safe from this evil.” He dropped the banner, pushed it into the gutter with his broom, and spat on the ground.
“It a threat. Isn’t it? Please, tell me what it says.”
Kung was pale and wouldn’t look into her eyes. “It is not so much the message, Teacher, rather the messenger. Teacher, the message says you must stop teaching foreign ways to children of the Kingdom but the banner bears the mark of the Boxers.”
Wynn gasped. “But they cannot be here! I escaped their evil years ago. This cannot be true, not here in Canada. I must do something.”
Kung watched as tears filled her eyes then he saw her troubled features harden as she stooped and picked the banner from the gutter. As Kung leaned on his broom, she churned to the police station, the banner clutched in her white knuckled fist, fluttering in her wake. She dragged it through the great door to the station, and approached the main desk.
“I’m a British subject and I’ve been threatened. I demand that you do something about it; they cannot be allowed to intimidate us in our own land, not here, not ever again!” Wynn stood before the desk of the Police Sergeant, slamming down the offensive banner with such force that the inkwell shook, and spattered ink on the daily blotter.
“Indeed, Madam! May I ask whom I’m addressing and just what the problem might be?”
“I’m Winifred Paxton, teacher and director of the Chinese Academy of Learning, just down the road. I discovered this horrible banner plastered across the entrance to the building this morning. You may not be able read it but the message is plain. I’m to stop teaching young Chinese about Christian values. Furthermore, the banner bears the mark of those heathen devils, the Boxers. Those savages chased my family out of China; I refuse to be intimidated in my own country. Something simply must be done!” She was red-faced, and waited for his response.
“I assure you, Mrs. Paxton, I take this matter seriously. I am ignorant of the Chinese language, however, I do have two constables who can read this scrawl and I’ll have them look into the matter at once. We cannot have Christian women being threatened by heathen savages.”
“Thank you, Sergeant; you have been most helpful, but I must now open my school. I look forward to hearing further about this matter; you know where to find me. Good morning.” She bustled out of the station. The Sergeant watched her leave then dabbed at the ink stains on his blotter. After a moment, he tossed his cloth away and called into the Constables’ room.
“Where is Barnsdall? Get me Barnsdall!”

###

As Frank Barnsdall walked through Fan Tan alley his nose hinted of exotic stories about the inhabitants, as pork, poultry, compost, and the essence of humans mingled in an olfactory cocktail that his nose would have been wiser to avoid. The crowds and bustle reminded him of Peking. In China he’d been the foreigner, but Victoria was his turf and the locals in this ghetto deferred to him. Their deference was laced with suspicion and hostility whereas his partner Redvers held some degree of respect, a gift not yet bestowed upon Frank. He wondered how long it would take him to earn his place.
The telephone in the reception of the small Chinese hospital gave patrolling constables a link to the main police station, so they routinely stopped in.
“Good morning, Sophie,” said Frank. “How are you this fine Monday?”
The middle-aged Chinese woman smiled at Frank as he approached her desk.
“Fine day, Mr. Policeman. Your loban is looking to speak with you. He only just left message. You call him without waste of time.”
Frank smiled. “What would I do without you to take care of my messages?”
She returned a pained look, cranked the magneto and handed him the receiver. Frank requested to be connected to the police station.
“Barnsdall here, I understand you’re looking for me?” He listened as the sergeant told him about the schoolteacher and the banner. “I’ll drop in and speak with her. On second thought, I’ll come look at the banner first. It might help me to understand the problem.”
A few cobblestone blocks later, Frank examined the banner in the police station. “Well, there is definitely a threat but we’ll have to get Redvers to translate; he knows Mandarin better than me. He’ll be awake soon but I think he’s going to Fort Rodd Hill, visiting with his regiment. In the meantime, I’ll call in on the teacher and reassure her.”

###

The Sergeant had described the teacher as a she-devil so Barnsdall squared his shoulders as he rang the doorbell, but was unprepared when a petite blonde with large expressive eyes opened the door.
“Constable Barnsdall, Ma’am, I’m responding to the matter of the banner you discovered this morning.”
“Oh yes! I was expecting someone. Those devils must not get away with threats. My family was chased out of China and I will not back down in my own country!” Frank watched the colour rise in her cheeks and her eyes danced. Perhaps the Sergeant wasn’t off the mark. She had a fiery temperament and a lively personality but was conservatively dressed. Such a woman might even be a challenge to Redvers.
“We’ll not allow them to force anything on you or the school. My partner and I are aware of the Society of Harmonious Fists. We served in China during the uprisings and they don’t intimidate us. You must meet my partner, Constable Duncan. He’s well versed in Chinese customs and will quickly deal with those responsible.”

###

Redvers glanced at the concrete abutments of Fort Rodd Hill while the steam launch that had delivered him returned to the dockyard. He tucked his scarf against the cold, as damp air bit through his woolen pea jacket. He climbed a crushed-shell path upwards from the beach. Redvers, a recently-appointed Staff Sergeant in the militia that manned the Fort, approached the gate. A sentry barked,
“Who goes there?”
“Staff Sergeant Duncan, to see Major Collins.”
“Advance and be recognized.”
Redvers hurried over to the Commandant’s office.
The Royal Canadian Garrison Artillery was a mixture of volunteer Canadians and former Royal Marine Artillery. The Fort, a legacy the Royal Navy, was turned over to local initiative when Britain withdrew from the area. His close friend, James Collins, a recent discharge from the Royal Marines, had been hired by the Canadian government to stiffen the volunteer brigade. Today was his first on duty and Redvers wanted to welcome him.
“Glad to see you, Staff,” Major Collins extended his hand. “I wasn’t expecting you; you’re not on duty until next week.”
“Sir, couldn’t miss a chance for a draught of good navy rum. I know there must be a stash, what with the HMS Royal Arthur in the harbour. Also, the new fast loaders intrigue me. I hear the battery is mounted and operational.” Redvers referred to small-bore fast loading guns designed to complement the main howitzers. “Those breech loading twelve pound guns can sweep the harbour approaches of torpedo boats.”
“Certainly, I haven’t seen them myself yet. I’m finding my way around and a little put off that no one is around to turn over the command to. It’s sure not the way we did business in the Corps.”
Redvers sighed. “ Don’t worry, I hope to ease your entry into the world of colonial military life.” There’d been problems at the Fort and the transition from Royal Marines to volunteers had not gone well.
“I was afraid this might happen, that’s why I’m here. Why don’t we look at the new guns, I believe they’re on the Belmont battery, facing Fisgard Lighthouse. Let’s go for a walk.”
The two friends strode into a West Coast mist, and wound their way through a dripping Douglas fir canopy. Collins shivered and drew his coat close as his breath ascended in a vapour cloud.
“Bloody cold, wouldn’t be surprised to see some snow. I got a glimpse of the Olympic mountain range this morning before the clouds moved in. The snow level is way down.” They paused, as the path left the underbrush, and opened onto a view of ocean.
Redvers remarked, “Aye, it’s just like being home. The countryside is so much like North England that I swear I’ll turn a corner and meet my old Gran. Do you miss your home in London, Sir?”
Collins looked Redvers in the eye. “When we’re alone its Jimmy, and yes, sometimes I do miss the big city. Victoria just isn’t London but my Beatrice has made all the difference. Victoria is my home now, small though it might be, and anywhere Beatrice is, I’m happy. You need a good wife to settle you.”
“Now, don’t you start on me! Barnsdall has been harping like a fishwife for me to find a mate. I’ll do so when I’m good and ready. There are so many women, I feel like a young lad standing in a sweet shop with a pound note burning my pocket.”
Collins slapped him across the shoulders. “That’s the Redvers I know, one of these days though, mark my words.”
The two friends went down a narrow trail to a heavy metal door set in a concrete wall. Redvers heaved the door open and they entered a small room illuminated by a single ceiling bulb. The room contained a wooden desk, two wooden benches, a picture of King Edward, a lit cast-iron stove, but no soldiers.
“What the bloody hell? Corporal! Where’s the dammed duty guard?” Redvers stormed out of the guardroom, down a corridor and into the communications area. No one was in the wireless station. “This doesn’t look good, Jimmy. There should be at least eight men on duty, where are they?”
Collins pulled the revolver from his Sam Browne holster as they moved onto the A-Gun platform. This area was also deserted. Redvers doubled back to the Com Centre, and took a marlinspike from the signals mast. Together, they moved towards the A-Gun crew quarters. The barracks were a shambles, with beds in disarray and items of kit improperly stowed.
“Good Lord, Redvers! What sort of a unit is this?” The major scowled. “I know most of them are reservists but there is a desperate lack of discipline. The previous CO may not have been a regular but this is scandalous!”
They moved cautiously down a tunnel towards the galley that linked the A and B Batteries. As they got closer, the sound of female laughter rang through the stone passage. The tunnel rose into a brightly lit mess hall. The crews from A and B Guns were seated around large trestle tables with three women, the cook and scullery staff.
Redvers burst into the room.
“Officer on deck!”
The assembly froze then scrambled to attention. A bubbling caldron on the open hearth filled the silence. Collins stared at each man in turn, then at the civilian staff.
“Where’s the Sergeant in charge?”
The senior Corporal spoke, his body rigidly at attention. “Sergeant Milford is on sick parade, Sir!” None of the assembled crews appeared to breathe.
“Tell me, Corporal,” Collins spoke in a controlled calm voice, “who is on lookout for orders from the Upper Battery to engage enemy craft attacking the dockyard?”
There was no response. Redvers saw Collin’s neck redden.
“I thought as much!” The Major roared. “A troop of fucking Baden Powell Boy Scouts, with staves, could overwhelm this battery while you slackers sip tea and play patsy with the cooks. Staff, deal with this mess now, then report to me at the upper command post.” Collins shoved his Webley back into his Sam Browne, glowered around the room, and then strode out.
Redvers fixed the gathering with a glacial glare and cleared his throat, “I am Staff Sergeant Duncan, formerly of His Majesty’s Royal Marines Artillery. You and I’ll get to know one another very well over the next few weeks. I don’t know why you abandoned your posts. One or two men in the galley is normal not the whole bloody lot at once! I’m sure it will not happen again. Your former Staff Sergeant might have tolerated dereliction of duty but I won’t! Corporals, I want a complete list of ranks present here, on my desk in one hour. Dismissed.”
Redvers stood at attention outside Major Collins’ office. The utilitarian room had hard-backed chairs and a massive oak desk, the one concession to luxury, was a small open-hearthed fire that radiated comfortable heat.
“Come in, Staff, and close the door.”
Redvers removed his coat and Collins beckoned to a chair near the fire. The Major sighed and slumped behind his desk. “We’ve a fair way to go to make this regiment ship shape. My God, Redvers, I’m glad you’re here. Discipline is apparently a novel idea. I’m no William Bligh but these reservists need acquaintance with military realities, especially with the Hun threatening war in Europe. Victoria is the only military base on the Pacific Coast of the Empire. It could be an attractive target for the Kaiser’s Battle Cruisers. The Fort’s big guns should play a major role in the protection of Victoria.”

Last week I posted about the Great War which began one hundred years ago. My novel Chasing the Dragon’s Tail is set in this time frame and will be available in the not too distant future. I’m waiting for some reviews to accompany the manuscript from a pair of accomplished, published authors who have graciously agreed to look at my material. In the meantime I am going to tease my faithful readers with a series of chapters, beginning of course with the first.

If you enjoy the read please tell others.

Chapter 1
The Foreign Quarter, Beijing, China
June 20, 1900

“Bloody eerie isn’t it, Gunny? Right strange, if you ask me. I don’t like it one bit. The Chinamen are up to something and it isn’t good.”
Redvers Duncan, a Gunnery Sergeant in Her Majesty’s Royal Marines, said nothing but scanned the ominously empty streets of the Foreign Quarter. He’d been in China almost a year and had seen dissension among the Chinese evolve into the Society of Harmonious Fists, commonly known as the Boxers. These dangerous ultra-nationalists had begun massacring Christian missionaries and their converts.
Redvers finally muttered, “You’re spot on corporal. An emissary from the Forbidden City has warned all foreign nationals to leave. Apparently, the Dowager can no longer guarantee our safety. Bloody useless bunch.”
“Look! Over there!” The corporal pointed to smoke in the north. “I’ll give you a bob that’s from the German Embassy. Those buggers’ll be sorry they aren’t over here with us.”
Redvers snorted, “We’d better report to the old man. Go find the Jimmy and be quick about it!”
Redvers peered at the smoke and thought he heard gunfire. He was in a hastily fortified area with British, United States, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Austrian and French troops.

“Hey, Yank. Hand me those field glasses, if you please?” He gestured to a burly sergeant in the blue and white of the United States Marine Corps.
“Here you are, Limey. What do you make of those yellow bastards with their damned banners and swords?”
Redvers adjusted the glasses and focused on a brightly-festooned mob carrying banners and winding its way from the Forbidden City. Fortunately Redvers saw few firearms but read their large sign proclaiming foreigners were not welcome.
“It doesn’t look good, Yank. That mob is headed our way.”
“That’s Frank to you. Frank Barnsdall, from Seattle, Washington.”
“I’m Redvers Duncan, from the North of England. Apparently we’re in for excitement; the Chinamen aren’t in the mood to chat.” The mob’s chanting became a low rumble. He smelled acid smoke and heard sporadic gunfire, then spotted a horse-drawn carriage escorted by heavily-armed men in khaki. Must be refugees from the German embassy, he thought, as they pushed through a rag tag band of Chinese.
“This isn’t good, Limey,” muttered Barnsdall. “Looks like the Krauts are having a tough go of it!” He lowered his field glasses and turned to a US Corporal,
“Corporal, alert the Major that trouble is brewing. Ask him to join us at the barricades! Hurry, off with you!”

Barnsdall and Duncan watched two Chinese gangs about to converge.
“The Germans will be in major difficulty if those mobs unite.” The city alleyways reverberated with,
“Kha! Kha! Kha!”
“What the hell are those devils shouting?” Barnsdall asked,
“Kill. Kill, if my grasp of their language is correct,” said Redvers. “They sure as hell aren’t friendly.” Suddenly, an officer in the Imperial German Navy, in charge of the beleaguered carriage, rallied his men. They fired their rifles rapidly and desperately stabbed with bayonets as they carved through the Chinese. The mob surrounded the carriage, thrashed at the driver, pulled him from his perch, and tried to board the cabin box.
A female shriek sent goose bumps up Redvers neck and saw the mob tear at the carriage. The horses panicked and trampled the crowd and the carriage rocked back and forth on the verge of rolling over.

He glanced at Barnsdall who nodded agreement. They mustered their marines and then a bellowing Redvers led them over the barricades towards the fight. They set upon the Boxers who fell back in disarray. Redvers leapt onto the carriage, grasped the reigns and spurred the team towards the barricades. The Boxers regrouped and surged forward as the carriage broke clear and headed for safety. Redvers turned to watch the furious fight but failed to see a rock outcrop and drove into it. The front axle shattered and hurled the carriage into market stalls and came to rest under a veranda.

Redvers staggered to his feet, lurched to the shattered carriage and directed two dazed men to run for the barricades. He grabbed the bleeding and unconscious woman and carried her over his shoulder towards the barricades. A Boxer advanced with a large pike pole swathed in red silk and he was followed by two more with swords. Redvers fired his revolver three times, and knocked them to the ground. He was breathing heavily but was still ten yards from safety when four more Chinese screaming murderously emerged from an alley. He fired three times but two still came on. He turned and put his body between them and the woman. The closest Boxer swung a club at Redvers, but missed his head. Redvers felled him with a blow from the butt of his empty revolver. The second attacker raised a hatchet; Redvers flinched as the blade hovered but the Boxer, his face a mask of rage and yellow teeth, suddenly staggered backwards from a gunshot. A banshee wail of lead from the barricades drove off the Chinese mob. Redvers, the Marines and the remaining Germans rushed through the Legation barricades.

His Lieutenant clapped an exhausted Redvers across the back. “Bloody good show, Duncan! I’ll write you up favourably for what you just did. Those people, particularly the young woman, owe you their lives.”
Redvers was doubled over panting and quite unable to reply. Medical personnel attended to the young woman. She was a striking beauty with aristocratic Aryan features and ash-blonde hair. The German naval officer who’d led the contingent knelt beside her. He pointed to Redvers and said something to the injured woman and she smiled. He thanked Redvers for saving his wife, then spat towards the Boxers, who had re-grouped at a safe distance from the barricades. Redvers did not see them again, but remembered the small red dragon tattoo on her lower back which was revealed through her torn dress.

As night fell, he went to the American bivouac where Frank Barnsdall sat with other marines around a small campfire, “Hey Limey, how about a cup of coffee?”
“I’ll pass on the coffee, tea is more to my liking but I’ll sit awhile, if you don’t mind?” He sat beside Barnsdall. “That was a close call this afternoon, bloody close. Doubt if we’ve seen the last of them, though. It’s a dammed good thing they don’t have modern weapons. God help us if the Chinese Army gets into it.”
“You’re right about that,” said Barnsdall. “Don’t know how long we can hold out if they get their act together. Surely to God, our governments will send relief forces to save our hides. By the way, that was a smooth piece of driving you done today, ran square into the only bloody rock in sight. Guess you wanted to get your hands on that blonde beauty. Tell me that’s so, isn’t it?”
Redvers blushed as he recalled her warm body on his back.
“Yes… she was lovely, wasn’t she?” He said and grinned.

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