Book II: China
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.
there representatives from the government of Spain?” Diego asked hopefully.
shook his head no. “I do
not think so. The main
foreign companies are British, French, Portuguese and American.”
suppose it would be better to see the Portuguese,” Diego told him,
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.
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.
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.
man? You are blaming all of
the destruction on the China Star on one man?”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
was swept overboard, too, sir,” the new captain answered.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
nodded. “I do not think
that anyone on the China Star would
be very happy to see me right now.”
laughed. “That is
probably wise. They may be
blaming you for the damage.”
probably are,” Diego agreed.
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.”
Cho Xian. I have been
honored to have been a guest in your home,” he said formally and then
bowed to her.
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.
shook his head. “Wo
budong,” he said to her. ‘I
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.”
long as we reach the Portuguese trade commission before the British find
out I am here,” Diego replied.
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
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
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.
Son rushed up to Diego and hugged him tightly.
“Ziajian, Xiansheng 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.
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,”
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.”
Santos stared at the man in amazement.
“The Opium Bandit? You
cannot be serious. He is
dead. No one could have
survived that storm.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
‘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
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
“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