Here is the next installment of my new book. A new character is introduced and the plot begins. Hope you enjoy…
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
“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.”