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.
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.