Pacific Odyssey:

Book II: China

 

 

 

 

Chapter Four 

Guangzhou/Canton

 

   

“Diego, tomorrow morning we will be sailing into Canton,” Leiching said, as they sat around the table eating supper.   “As soon as we dock, Second Son and I will take you to the European Trade Commission of your choice,” From what little the Californiano had told him, Leiching was positive that his guest did not wish to go to the British Trade Commission.  Leiching had gotten the impression that Diego had been a virtual prisoner in their hands, although the Spaniard had mentioned one who had been kind.            

“Are there representatives from the government of Spain?”  Diego asked hopefully.             

Leiching shook his head no.  “I do not think so.  The main foreign companies are British, French, Portuguese and American.”             

“I suppose it would be better to see the Portuguese,” Diego told him, disappointed. 

           

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At the British Trade Commission, four days after Diego’s rescue, a very flustered quartermaster, now acting-captain was trying to explain the condition of the ship that had just limped into Canton harbor.  He told of the death of Captain Beatty at the hands of a mysterious dark-clad masked man, who had also destroyed almost the entire opium shipment.   

“That doesn’t explain the condition of the ship.  It looks as though it’s been in a battle with pirates,” the trade envoy growled. He was sitting behind an enormous, ornately carved desk, smoking a large cigar.  Leaning back in his chair, he kept moving his hands up and down his ample stomach, sometimes reaching into his vest pocket, sometimes tapping, and sometimes tugging on his vest.  It was obvious to Hackley that the trade envoy was not amused.   

“This man managed, without being detected, to destroy the entire shipment of opium.  Over fifty chests!  If I had not seen him with my own eyes, I would have thought him a ghost, or a demon.  It was uncanny.   Many of the opium chests even had cannonballs in them, so the weight would be the same, I suppose.”  Hackley paused, and sucked in a breath.  He furiously tried to think of something that would impress the envoy and appease the man’s anger.  “The avenger, as Captain Beatty, God rest his soul, called him, created havoc all over the ship.  He killed the captain in one place, led us across the poop deck and into the rigging.  He led us a merry chase, he did.   He wielded a sword as though it was an extension of his hand.  He flew through the rigging like some kind of black bird.”  Hackley was sweating by now.   This was not going as planned, but then, he had realized several days ago that the destruction on the ship was not going to make the company leaders happy anyway.   

“One man?  You are blaming all of the destruction on the China Star on one man?”  

“He was like the devil himself, sir.”  Hackley wanted to wipe his brow, but refrained.  Drops of sweat trickled down both sides of his face.  He continued to explain everything the avenger had done, embellishing as much as possible.  He had wondered himself, during the three-day voyage, just how so much could have gone wrong in so little time just because of one man.  

The envoy’s face took on a slightly purplish hue, and the end of his cigar was shredded by the time the quartermaster was finished with his explanation.  “Where is this devil, so we can make a proper example of him?  You do have him, am I correct?” he asked.           

“No, sir, we don’t” was the answer.  “When we began shooting, he jumped overboard.  There is no way he could have lived through that storm.  We lost about a dozen men overboard, about half that many were killed in falls, and the cargo master died during the night.  He had been sick, but we do have his manifests, he and his assistant kept them meticulously.”           

“Why isn’t the assistant here to explain them to me then?” the envoy asked, still chewing on what was left of his cold cigar.   A Chinese servant came in with a tray containing a teapot and several dainty China cups.  The envoy waved him out of the room.  Bowing, the servant retreated slowly, as though trying to hear every word. 

“He was swept overboard, too, sir,” the new captain answered.             

Getting up from behind his desk, the envoy began pacing. “Fifty chests of opium.  A perfectly good ship,” the envoy muttered as he walked up and down an ornate Middle Eastern carpet.  The new captain wisely kept still.  As he paced, the big man began issuing orders. “Get anything of value off the ship and send the crew to any ships that need new hands.  I’ll decide what to do with the China Star later,” the envoy ordered.  “I can’t believe that Beatty became so obsessed with one traitorous sailor that he neglected his duties,” he added.           

“The man was like a fiend from Hell, sir.  He was clad from head to toe in black even to a black mask and he used the sword like he had been born with it.  It makes my flesh crawl just to think about it,” Hackley said, repeating much of what he had already said.  The envoy just dismissed him with a wave of his hand.  With a bow, Hackley quickly left the room.  

As British seaman hurried to the hall, several servants, including the one with the tray of tea, scrambled back from the door to their duties, giving surreptitious glances at the quartermaster and each other.  By the evening meal, the tale of the ‘Opium Bandit’ had been noised around in all of the Chinese neighborhoods of Canton.

 

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Before the sun had risen the next morning, Diego had already cleaned up, changed back into the silk shirt and pants, wrapped the sash around his waist, strapped the sword on and was waiting for their arrival.  The mask and bandanna were safely hidden inside his shirt.  The cape and gloves, he would carry.  He wanted to make sure that he would make a good enough impression on the Portuguese envoy that perhaps he might be able to finagle a way home.  He neatly folded the borrowed clothes and handed them to Xian.  Xiexie, thank you,” he told her. 

She smiled.  “Diego, I am glad that Leiching did not listen to me and throw you back into the ocean.  And I do not think you are a pirate.”   She laughed.   

“I am also glad Leiching didn’t listen to you, and thank you for believing me,” Diego answered, laughing with her.  Diego had felt her trust in him after the second day. 

As they sailed into the harbor, Diego stood at the bow of the junk and was astonished at the size of the city.  It looked part European with European style buildings and part Chinese.  Ships were everywhere, including large European cargo ships and small Chinese and Malay fishing boats.  Leiching’s junk was by no means the smallest one there.  Diego wondered how some of the tiny ships kept from being capsized in the busy waters.  Tapping him in the shoulder, Eldest Son pointed out a European ship docked on the starboard side of the junk.  Diego turned and his eyes widened in shock.  The China Star looked as though it had been in a war.  The mainmast was sheared off about halfway up, sails had been cut off giving it a ragged look and it was sitting low in the water, a testament to the fact that she had taken on a great deal of water during the storm.            

Diego quickly slipped around to the other side of the junk.  He would be easily recognized by anyone on the China Star, especially since he was in costume. “That is the ship you had to jump from?”  Leiching asked.             

Diego nodded.  “I do not think that anyone on the China Star would be very happy to see me right now.”             

Leiching laughed.  “That is probably wise.  They may be blaming you for the damage.”

“They probably are,” Diego agreed. 

When they docked at a smaller berth away from the larger trading vessels, Leiching gave detailed instruction to Eldest Son and his wife and told them that he would be back soon.  Xian touched his arm to get his attention, bowed and said, “May all the ancestors protect and guide you, Xianshen Diego, that you may soon return to your home.”  

“Xiexie, Cho Xian.  I have been honored to have been a guest in your home,” he said formally and then bowed to her.   

He, Leiching, Second Son, and Youngest Son, the boy having pestered his father, who had good-naturedly allowed him to come, set out for the Portuguese Trade Building.  As they made their way through narrow streets across the city, Diego was disconcerted to find many eyes staring at him and people pointing and talking in whispers.  He tried to ignore it, but the feeling of being examined like a side of beef was hard to ignore.  Finally a young woman came up and touched his shirt and bowing low, asked him a question so fast that he wasn’t able to understand.  He did hear the word for opium.           

Diego shook his head.  Wo budong,” he said to her.  ‘I don’t understand.’            

Leiching listened to the woman and then stared incredulously at the foreigner he had saved.  “Diego, was the cargo that you destroyed opium?”  Other people had gathered around, their eyes large with awe, whispering behind their hands.               

A look of comprehension crossed Diego’s face.  Shi, yes, it was,” Diego said simply.  Many of the people bowed to him, including some that were older than he, and it confused and embarrassed him. Softly, he asked Leiching, “Why are they doing this?   How do they know about what I did on the China Star?”           

“You are the ‘Opium Bandit,’ Diego,” Leiching told him.  “The captain of that ship you were on told his master about a man dressed all in black, with a sword, who destroyed the opium.  The servants heard and told the tale to their neighbors and they told their neighbors.  You are being honored, Diego.  I am honored to have saved you.”  Leiching bowed to him.   

Youngest Son stared, his mouth open in awe.  Now Diego was really embarrassed because his reasons for the destruction of the opium were not entirely altruistic, that having come later.  He expressed his thoughts to Leiching, at the same time wishing that he had something else to wear.  In light of what he had just been told, Diego believed that the dark outfit was a distinct liability and he felt about as inconspicuous as a condor in the sala.  But the British could not know he was alive, at least not yet. He had not seen any other Europeans and could only suppose that Leiching was taking him by routes more commonly traveled by the Chinese.   All he could do now was hope that no one sympathetic to the British Trade Commission reported him, at least until he could tell his story to the Portuguese trade envoy.  

“Your other motives are not of importance, Diego.  It is the fact that you took action against something we do not even want in our country that has made you a hero.”  

“As long as we reach the Portuguese trade commission before the British find out I am here,” Diego replied.  

They continued on their way, but it took longer because the scene was repeated often.  Youngest Son soon tired, so Diego picked him up and carried him on his shoulder.  This delighted the boy, who basked in the added attention.  Diego was soon receiving little gifts and food from various people who stopped them on their way.  His discomfiture grew and he wished they would quickly get to their destination.

When they finally reached the steps of the envoy’s residence, Diego turned to Leiching and bowed deeply and long.  “I will never forget what you have done for me, Wang Leiching,” Diego said softly.  “Please convey my gratitude to your whole family, and may God go with you all.”           

Lieching bowed deeply to the Californiano in turn.  “And may all of our ancestors watch over you and take you safely back to your home.”  Both speeches had been part English and part Chinese, but both understood the other perfectly as friends often do.            

Youngest Son rushed up to Diego and hugged him tightly.  Ziajian, Xiansheng Diego.”   

Diego kneeled down to return the boy’s hug.  Zaijian, good-bye, Youngest Son,” Diego told the boy.   Leiching took his child by the hand and then turned and walked across the small plaza.  The boy waved until the crowd had swallowed the little family up.   Diego turned and walked up the steps to the entrance of the Portuguese Trade Commission.

 

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Miguel do Santos was sitting at his desk, going over the manifests of trade goods when he heard a sharp rap at his door.   He didn’t know whether to be grateful for the interruption or be irritated.  He hated this job-- reading the manifests, the goods orders, the reports to and from the local Chinese merchandise houses, or hongs and the imperial representatives.   He hated this country, the climate, he hated kowtowing to the envoy, Batisto, and he especially hated the envoy’s son, Enrique.   On the other hand, he had put off going over these reports and getting them ready for Senhor Batisto for the last two days and he knew that he needed to get them done.  “Enter,” he growled. 

His personal servant, Ching Po, entered, bowing quickly, obviously excited about something.  Xiansheng do Santos,” the servant said, almost panting.  “The Opium Bandit.  He is here.  The one I told you about yesterday evening.”  

Do Santos stared at the man in amazement.  “The Opium Bandit?  You cannot be serious.  He is dead.  No one could have survived that storm.”  

“He is alive and he is just outside the entrance.  I think he wants to see Xiansheng Batisto.”  Ching Po bowed again and pointed to the window. 

Do Santos got up and walked to the window overlooking the small plaza.  To his amazement, he saw a tall Englishman, dressed in black, standing at the foot of the trade commission steps, kowtowing to a Chinaman.  The man wore a sword and was being treated with great deference by a small crowd of Chinese.  So this is the man that destroyed a ship single-handedly.  The man looked tall and lithe, capable of some of the athletic prowess that was attributed to him, but to cause the destruction of a large vessel like the China Star?  That had to be an exaggeration.  However, do Santos began seeing possibilities in this man’s appearance at his doorstep.  He could only imagine what lengths the British might go to in order to capture this man if they knew he was alive.  I would imagine they would be willing to pay dearly for him, he thought with a smile.   He turned back to find Ching Po next to him.  “I want you to stay close by,” he said to the servant.  “I might have need for a messenger later.”   The Chinaman bowed deeply and pattered out of the room, his queue slapping against his back.    

Do Santos followed, deciding to greet the Englishman personally.  When the man was admitted into the residence, do Santos had to admit that the man did make a great impression in his black silk outfit.  The one thing do Santos noticed, however, was that this man did not appear to be British.  He carried himself more with the bearing of a Spanish caballero than a British sailor.  Do Santos was most curious to learn more about this man.             

“So you are the infamous ‘Opium Bandit,’ ” do Santos said to the dark clad man in English, who started a bit at the reference to his dubious fame.  The Portuguese was feeling more and more that there was profit in this man’s plight.  When he finally spoke, he chose his words carefully.  “I do not know if you are aware of this, but in a trade war there are rewards for sabotaging the goods of a rival company.”   

The ‘Opium Bandit’ looked disgusted for a brief moment, but then asked in a hopeful voice, “Would such a reward cover the cost of passage to California?”  

Do Santos was right, this man was no Englishman; he was a Spanish Californiano.  He would stake his last month’s pay that he was also the son of a hacendado.  “I am Miguel do Santos, assistant to the trade envoy.  Let us go in and discuss this over a bit of lunch,” he said by way of invitation.  Miguel do Santos was now sure he would be able to turn a profit by this man’s appearance. 

 

 

 

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