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Our Hart, Episode 38!
By Lloyd Lofthouse   


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Robert Hart arrived in China in 1854. By the time he left in 1908, he was the most powerful Westerner in China's history and the only foreigner the Emperor of China trusted. His love and dedication to China was born from the love for one woman—a love story Robert wanted to hide from the world. I spent a decade exploring China and Hart's life to discover this story.

____________________________

            After Robert had accepted the job with the Imperial government, he promoted Guan-jiah. Instead of being a servant, Guan-jiah managed a dozen. Robert didn’t want to leave the courtyards full of dead plants, so he made Guan-jiah responsible for landscaping the gardens.

 
*    *    *
 
            When Guan-jiah finished the first courtyard, he called Robert to see it. “What do you think, Master?”
 
            “I’m speechless.” He was amazed and didn’t know what to say. It was early evening and a half-moon was glowing in the sky. He stood in the garden’s center and felt as if he were in the mountains surrounded by a forest.
 
            “How did you do it?” he asked.
 
            “Do what, Master?”
 
            “Design this space so it feels ten times larger than it is. I can see the glowing moon. I like that. These trees and plants don’t block the view.”
 
            “My plan would have failed if the trees were thick enough to cover the beauty of the night sky.” Guan-jiah pointed at the open space that revealed the moon. “I made sure not to fill that part of the sky.”
 
            Robert studied the pile of boulders. They looked as if they were leaning against the side of a mountain. There had been a fountain there. Now there was a waterfall with a brook flowing through the boulders. Behind the boulders was a tall stand of bamboo that hid the house. Other, smaller trees were planted among the climbing pile of boulders and the scene looked as if it had been plucked from the wilderness. In fact, it felt as if the house didn’t exist. “Who did you learn this from?” he asked. The garden calmed him.
 
            “From Li Liwen,” Guan-jiah replied. “He lived during the seventeenth century, and Shen Fu, who lived at the end of the eighteenth century. Liwen said, 'First, we look at the hills in the painting; then we look at the painting in the hills.’
 
            “Look at the rockery.” Guan-jiah pointed at the pile of boulders. How could anyone call them a pile when they looked like the forces of nature put them there? Many were larger than a man was. Robert wondered how the Chinese workers managed to get them in here.
 
            “If you look around, Master, nowhere will you find a straight line. I planned it so when you reach the center of this garden, you are surrounded by nature as if you were in the mountains. To the Chinese, the mountains and rivers are alive. We can see the dragon's back along the winding ridges of the mountains, and the dragon’s tail where the mountains merge into the plains or the sea.
 
            “My goal was to capture that essence, so you can surround yourself with tranquility. Shen Fu said, ‘show the large in the small and the small in the large, provide for the real in the unreal and for the unreal in the real,’ and that is what I attempted to do.
 
            “Of course, I am no master at this. We still have to train the trees to get the right look. That will take time. To make sure you wouldn’t see any walls, I had creepers planted. I am sorry to say that in the daylight you can still see some of the house but at night it is what I imagined.”
 
            “You have created magic, Guan-jiah. You never fail to amaze.”
 
            “I dreamed that one-day I would do something like this for my family. Since this garden was completed, I have carried Anna here daily, so she is not separated from nature. I want her to appreciate the small things in life by learning how to grow flowers.”
 
            Robert imagined Guan-jiah in the garden with Anna in his arms. The image filled his eyes with tears. He turned so the eunuch couldn’t see. He spent so many hours at work that he didn’t have much time to spend with his family.
 
            “What you have done is a miracle,” he said, careful to keep the emotion out of his voice. “This garden suggests a wild place. It is as if you tamed nature. Thank you, Guan-jiah. I will be proud to show this to my guests.”
 
            “It is regrettable that I cannot finish the other courtyards before the party.”
 
            “You have done enough, my friend.”
 
            Guan-jiah blushed. He cleared his throat. “Master, it is Ayaou.”
 
            “What do you mean?” Robert was alarmed. Was something wrong with his lover? Maybe she was pregnant again.
 
            “Master, she is a boat person. She will not know how to act.”
 
             “Nonsense.” He was relieved that it wasn’t serious. “All she has to do is show up and wear the gown that is being made for her. Instruct her to sit, eat, and look lovely. That shouldn’t be difficult. I don’t want to hear anymore about this. Just do your job, Guan-jiah. After all, you are the house manager.
 
            “Does that mean I manage the concubines too?”
 
            “Of course,” Robert said, “but don’t let them know.” He didn’t bother to say that Ayaou would be his only concubine.

___________________________________

This ends chapter 12 and the preview for Our Hart, Elegy for a Concubine. There are thirty-seven chapters in the novel. Thank you for reading this far.

 
Links to Reviews for "Our Hart"
 
 
Honorable Mentions in General Fiction
 
Visit China here: iLook China

 

 



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