For the next few months, Robert tried not to think about Ayaou. He buried himself with work. He wanted desperately to help stabilize the situation with the Chinese government, so he could be with Ayaou again. He glued himself to Parkes. They went everywhere together as battles raged in and around Canton.
The world turned to black and white with occasional violent flashes from the British and French cannons and rebel rockets. Without Ayaou, there was no color in his life. Even the food lost flavor. He couldn’t tell the difference between a sip of water and sweet plum pudding.
He thought about Payne Hollister often. Determined to deal with him, he contacted people in Hong Kong. They found an address. He wrote a letter.
“Hollister, I read your lies. I find it amazing that you still hold a grudge after all these years.
“Yes, I admit that something happened with Me-ta-tae. Something I regret. It happened once and was over in moments.
“If forcible intercourse with Shao-mei wasn’t enough to satisfy your anger and you still want revenge, I’m willing to offer you satisfaction. Your choice, swords or pistols? Be a man. Name the time and place. I will be there.”
To prepare himself, he improved his sword skills by practicing with a British major. They worked for hours most evenings until Robert was drenched with sweat. He didn’t worry about his skill with a pistol. He’d always been a good shot. Even as a child, he’d been a better shot than his father had.
His motivation ran deeper than he wanted to admit. Every time he practiced, he imagined what it would feel like to kill Hollister and make him suffer. He wanted revenge for what Hollister had done to Shao-mei.
* * *
Weeks went by and there was no reply from Hollister. Robert had no way to know if the letter had reached him. One good thing came of it—writing that letter and sending it put the episode concerning Me-ta-tae behind him.
Confronting his guilt regarding the seduction of Me-at-tae and his willingness to risk death to atone for it helped him shed that sin.
He continued to practice with the sword. After all, Hollister might appear any day.
* * *
A court-martial commenced for three Royal marines. Robert acted as the interpreter for the Chinese witnesses. Seventeen charges had been brought against these men—charges for assault, attempted rape, robbery and murder. During their questioning, it became apparent that they believed they could do anything they wanted to the locals.
The affair disgusted him, but he kept his opinions to himself since most British and French didn’t feel the way he did.
Their punishment was light compared to the crimes they had committed. Their victims could have included Ayaou or Guan-jiah. Those soldiers should have been shot. Instead, they were reduced in rank, spent thirty days in the stockade and sent back to duty. The message said a Chinese life was worthless.
Honorable Mentions in General Fiction