Pacific Odyssey:

Book II: China

 

 

 

   

Chapter Seven

Politics

 

           

Victoria sat with the British envoy, drinking tea and trying to keep an outwardly detached and calm demeanor.  “Sir William, did you find out about the Californiano sailors?” she asked.  “You had promised that you would look into it for me.”  

“Yes, I did.  I had my secretary check on this.”  Sir William Buckley looked at a note on the little table next to the silver tea service.  Mr. Wesley says that of the eight men left, seven of them are desirous to return home.  They have accepted your generous offer and will be sent out on the first available ships heading east.”  He leaned forward and looked Victoria in the eyes.  “Let me add that I took the liberty to make their voyage home a working voyage.  That will save you a bit of money and they will still get what they want.”  

“Hmm.  That is not exactly what I expected, but then you are right.  They are getting home before the terms of their indentures are up.  I thank you for your help.”

“But you never did tell me why you felt compelled to do that for them, Mrs. Meachem,” the envoy said, gazing curiously at the woman.   

Victoria returned the gaze.  “It was something that Mr. Bowman said before he died.  His assistant, though very good at his duties and very conscientious, still could think of nothing other than returning home.  He had been kidnapped, you know.”  

“No, of that I was not informed.  But go on.”  

“Mr. Bowman told me how he wished that he could have paid the indenture for his assistant and send him back home.  I thought a great deal about that after the supercargo died.  Since that was not possible to do for his assistant, I thought that I would do it for the others.”  

“I cannot help but wonder what your husband would have thought about your surge of generosity,” Sir William commented, a slight frown on his face.

“I daresay he might not have felt quite so generous, but since he is dead, God rest his soul, I feel that I should be able to exercise my Christian prerogatives if I so choose,” she said, her voice slightly cool.  “It is my money, after all.”  

“Of course you should, Mrs. Meachem.  I meant no offense,” the envoy said quickly, knowing of her family’s backing of the shipping company of which he was a part.   

They both sipped from their teacups and the only sound in the room for several minutes was that of the large grandfather clock in the corner.  “Is that not an interesting story that the Chinese have been circulating about Capt. Beatty’s avenger?” she asked, delicately raising an eyebrow in curious interest.  She had been hearing nothing but rumors for a day and a half now.  They were like thistle down floating on the currents of the air.  Even though the Chinese had spread the rumor from Mr. Hackley’s report, she had heard from a sympathetic and trusted Chinese servant that the ‘Opium Bandit’ had been spotted in Canton.  While elated that Diego was alive, Victoria was afraid that if the envoy took the circulating rumors seriously, they would find the young Californiano before he could safely sail back home.  

“Yes, it is.  Amazing how bandits seem to find themselves lifted to the status of heroes despite the heinous things they have done.”   Sir William took another sip of his tea and then smiled briefly.  It seemed almost feral to Victoria.  “But we will soon know which one of Beatty’s traitorous sailors it was.  I got word around noon that he had asked for help from the Portuguese Trade Commissioner.  And we have someone from the envoy’s office who is going to help us capture him.”

“Oh?” Victoria asked, trying to keep the anxiety out of her voice.  “Did they say who he was?”  

“No, the idiot speaking to the envoy’s adjutant didn’t see fit to ask that question and the Portuguese didn’t give the name.”  There was a pause.  “But we’ll find out soon enough.”  Buckley pulled out his pocket watch and looked at it.  “Ah, soon.”

“What do you mean, Sir William?”

“My men should be in position to capture this bandit in about an hour, maybe less,” he said.

Oh, no!  Diego can’t be caught.  Not after all this!  Victoria set her teacup down and stood up.  “If you do not mind, m’lord, I have several things that I need to take care of before supper.”  She forced a smile.  “I promised Martha Ann that I would buy her a present from the market.  Will you excuse me?”  

“Of course, Mrs. Meachem.   Of course.  I have some business of my own to attend to.”  He, too, got up and watched while Victoria left the room, then he returned to his office.   

Victoria went into her apartment.  “Martha Ann, we are going to the market now,” she said, gathering her daughter’s cloak.  Clapping her hands, the little girl jumped up from her dolls and pulled her cloak over her shoulders.  Victoria dismissed the Chinese servant and, taking Martha Ann by the hand, went out a back entrance, down a small street and out into a thoroughfare filled with people.   She found a small hand-drawn carriage, a rickshaw, she was told they were called, for hire and soon she and Martha Ann were on their way to the Portuguese Trade Commission.

   

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Enrique and his servant hurried home as fast as he could, often scattering other riders along the wide road down which he traveled.  Just before entering the plaza in front of the Portuguese Trade Commission, he eased his horse back, not wanting to bring attention to himself.  As he slowly approached his home, he saw several British soldiers strategically placed around the edge of the plaza.  They were gazing around as though looking for someone.  Their puzzled looks gave Enrique great satisfaction, but somehow he needed to get rid of them.  Enrique’s eyes also took in do Santos talking quietly with several of them.  His blood boiled at the duplicity of his father’s advisor.  And doing it so openly, too! 

Then the boy had an idea. The soldiers seemed anxious, but they would be more anxious when he got through.  He put spurs to his horse’s side and galloped through the gate at the side of the building, straight to the captain of the guard, where he said in an agitated voice,  “Captain!  Miguel do Santos is plotting with the British.  They have already captured my new instructor and they are getting ready to kidnap Father when he arrives home,” he shouted.  “Look in the plaza and you will see what I mean.  Capture him!  Lock him up until Father comes home.  Father will take care of him.”            

Sure enough, when the guardsmen looked into the plaza, they saw exactly what Enrique wanted them to see.  The captain gathered the guard and they rushed into the plaza with their rifles cocked and aimed at the British.  As the Portuguese guardsmen shouted for the British to lay down their arms and surrender, people screamed and fled in all directions.  The British wisely fled also, but do Santos, a pistol in his hand, ran towards the Portuguese captain of the guard, waving his arms, screaming that they were making a mistake.  Thinking that he was attacking, a guardsman opened fire, several of his comrades following suite, and the assistant to the envoy fell to the ground, instantly dead.  The captain of the guard shouted for the men to cease firing.  There were still bystanders in the area.  Enrique gazed at the scene in horror.  It had not been his intention that anyone be killed; even do Santos.  But still, he could not help but be a bit pleased; he had accomplished his aim, even if it was not the exactly the way he had intended.  The British were gone and do Santos would cause no more trouble.  When his father arrived home, Enrique and the captain of the guard reported the ‘insurrection incident’ and the death of do Santos to him.              

In their private study, Enrique approached his father.  “Father, I know I acted hastily, but do Santos was a traitor.  He had British spies and guardsmen all over the plaza.  Now they are gone, do Santos is gone and we can send someone out to find Diego and bring him back.”  

“My son, while in my heart I agree with your actions and your words, what happened this afternoon could have caused us serious damage.  I had to reprimand the captain of the guard and I am reprimanding you as well.”  He paused and watched as his son shuffled his feet and stared at the ornate rug.

“But I had to do something to save Diego!  I could not just let the British take him.  He only destroyed some opium, Papa.  It was just opium.”  Enrique watched his father’s face, and realized that there was something he had not been told.

“My son, I did some checking and find that your new friend, Diego de la Vega, is in very serious trouble with the British.  He not only destroyed the cargo, he indirectly caused the destruction of the China Star.  At least, that is the British version of the story.  But the most damning charge is murder.”   He paused again to let the information sink in. 

“What?  Diego would not murder anyone, would he?”  

“He was caught in the cabin destroying the opium and while dueling with the captain of the ship, killed him.  The British have sent out word that there is a very large reward to anyone turning in the ‘Opium Bandit.’ ”  What he didn’t tell Enrique was the curious fact that the British had given no name to this mysterious ‘opium bandit.’  

“A reward for the ‘Opium Bandit?’  That means that do Santos did not give them Diego’s name.  That means that Diego can sneak back or we can go and get him right now, Papa, and then sneak him on a ship!”

“Very astute, my son, until you get to the part about Diego sneaking back or getting him right now.  That is not possible.  There are British spies all around the residence even as we speak.  Most we are aware of, but there may be a few we have not recognized.  They figure we will try to smuggle him back into the commission building this evening.  There is a description of the mysterious ‘Opium Bandit’ that includes the words tall and slender.  That would be enough, as watchful as they are right now.  We have to wait, Enrique.  Diego should be safe in the countryside if he stays out of sight and then in a day or two when things have calmed down a bit, we can send a couple of our own men out to find him.  Then we can get Diego back to Canton and send him out of the country by ship.” 

Enrique’s mouth opened and closed several times, as though he wanted to protest, but he didn’t.  There was nothing he could protest about.   His father would send one of his best spies to the British Trade Commission tomorrow to find out anything that might be helpful.

“Well, at least the Chinese will not turn him in,” Enrique finally stated.  He was worried, though, having told Diego it would be all right to come back to the commission house during the night.  He only hoped that his fencing instructor was as good at avoiding soldiers as he was with the sword.

Batisto just nodded.  He didn’t want to burst his son’s bubble by telling him that an opium-addicted Chinaman who turned in Diego would most likely have an unlimited supply of the drug for as long as he lived.

 

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As Victoria rode along in the rickshaw, she thought of the best way to approach the envoy.  She realized that it had to be the envoy and no one else because she had no idea who among his staff was the betrayer.  Does Sir William already have spies near the Portuguese enclave? she asked herself. 

“How far east are we?” she called out to the Chinaman pulling the carriage.  Victoria had perused the map in Sir William’s office and had a basic idea of the direction in which the Portuguese Trade Commission lay, but she wasn’t sure of distances. 

“Short distance, miss,” came the reply.  “You wish to shop first?”

“Yes.”  

“Market is ahead,” the driver told her.   

“That will be fine.  Thank you,” Victoria told him.  Soon she was standing next to the carriage gazing down the long line of stalls, colorful with the wares of several nations. 

“You will be safe.  Only watch for pickpockets,” the driver told her.  “I go with you if you wish to shop on all of street.”  

“I will be all right.  You go on.”  She looked down the long line of vendors.  It was all the better to slip away and get to the Portuguese envoy.  “I have shopped alone in London.  Surely this couldn’t be worse,” she added with a slight smile. 

The Chinese man smiled and bowed.  “No, Canton is much better.  But be careful.”

“I will.  Thank you.”  Victoria took Martha Ann’s hand began walking along the narrow avenue, occasionally perusing the wares.  She bought a toy for her daughter as they walked in the general direction of the Portuguese Trade Commission building.  Soon she looked for someone to give her more detailed directions. 

A prosperous Chinese merchant caught her eye.  Lightly fingering his silk material, she looked up and asked.  “How far is it to the Portuguese Trade Envoy’s house?”

The merchant blinked in surprise and then answered, his accent heavy, but otherwise his English was perfectly understandable, even more than that of the driver of the rickshaw.  “It is that way, madam,” he said, pointing.  “Second street to the right, then four streets.  It will be in front of you.”  He scrutinized her.   Victoria thanked him and turned in the indicated direction.  “Do you wish someone to go with you to make sure that you do not get lost?” he asked.  

Now it was Victoria’s turn to gaze meaningfully at the man.  “Is that likely?”  

“Sometimes it happens.  But for a small fee, my son can make sure you and your daughter get to the right place.”

Victoria quickly considered her options.  With this boy, she was assured that she could get to the envoy quickly.  Nodding, she said, “Yes, I think that would be most wise.  My errand is very important and I want to see the envoy before supper.”   

The man said something to the child and then the little boy turned to her.   “I am Li Chang.  I will make sure that you get to trade commission.”  

“The Portuguese one,” Victoria reminded them.   

“Yes, I have explained that to my son.  He understands that you wish to see Commissioner Batisto,” the merchant said.

“Ah, that is his name.  Yes, if Senhor Batisto is the envoy, he is the one I need to see.  Thank you.”  Victoria paid the prescribed coins and followed the boy through the crowded streets.    

The street vendors’ stalls ended a hundred paces before a large plaza.  Beyond the plaza was a magnificent building of European design.  She stopped.  What if there are spies out here all ready.  “Wait a minute, Li Chang.  I want to make sure I am not recognized.”  

“Buy silk and wrap it around you.  Do the same with your daughter.  Go like a women of India,” the boy suggested, pointing to a vendor selling very colorful cloth. 

Victoria looked at him in wonder and then approached the stall.  Soon she and Martha Ann were wrapped somewhat like a woman and child of India, in a multi-colored sari that hid all but part of their faces and hands.  Martha Ann was delighted with her new clothes and wanted to walk ahead, pirouetting to show off, but Victoria held her close.  It seemed awkward to walk in at first, especially over her own dress, but she soon got used to it.  She pulled out more coins and handed them to Chang.  “You have been of great service.  This is for you,” she said. 

Xiexie!” the boy exclaimed, looking at the shillings in his hand.  “Thank you.  You want me to wait?”

“No, you go on home.  I will be able to get back all right when I am finished,” Victoria told him.  The boy grinned, bowed and left. 

Without obvious haste, Victoria walked to the envoy’s residence.  She was surprised to see an inordinate number of guards and soldiers near the building.  One stopped her.  He asked her something in Portuguese.  It sounded somewhat like Spanish and Victoria thought she knew what he was asking her.  “I need to see the envoy.  It is very important,” she said in French, knowing that most Europeans knew that language.

“The envoy is not seeing anyone right now,” he responded in the same language, looking at her in a puzzled manner as though not quite able to figure out who or what she was.  “Who are you?”

“I have vital information about the ‘Opium Bandit’.”  She gazed at him for a moment.  “It is of greatest import.”

He gazed at her for another minute.  “You are British?”

“I am here to see Senhor Batisto,” she said emphatically, not answering his question.  She wondered what else she could say.  

The guard pondered for a few minutes.  “Wait, please.  I can promise you nothing, but I will check and see if Senhor Batisto can see you,” he said and walked into the residence.  Within a few minutes she and Martha Ann were being led into a large parlor where a heavy-set man, about the same age as Sir William, sat at a little table.  He motioned them to sit near him.   

“Madam, I welcome you,” he said in almost flawless English.  “What information do you have about the Opium Bandit?”

Victoria ignored the fact that he had somehow figured out her nationality.  Was I that obvious? she thought.   But the important thing right now was to make sure who this was the envoy.

“You are Senhor Batisto, the Portuguese envoy?” she asked in return. 

“Yes, I am, but how am I to know that you are not here to gather information for Sir William?”

“My name is Victoria Meachem, widow of Thomas Meachem, a British East India senior executive.  I was on the same ship as the ‘Opium Bandit.’  I helped several others throw a boat overboard for him to find when he jumped overboard,” she said, looking into the envoy’s eyes. 

“You are sympathetic to him?”

Victoria decided that candor was the best route to take in this conversation.  There was something that made her trust this man.  “He saved my honor from a ship’s officer who would have sullied my good name by his animalistic behavior.” She paused for only a few seconds.  “I happen to know that the British are coming here to capture him.”  

“You are about an hour too late,” the envoy said.   

 

 

 

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