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Lloyd Lofthouse

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Books by Lloyd Lofthouse
Our Hart, Episode 27
By Lloyd Lofthouse
Posted: Monday, December 21, 2009
Last edited: Tuesday, March 02, 2010
This short story is rated "G" by the Author.
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Recent stories by Lloyd Lofthouse
· Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé, Scene 13
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           >> View all 97
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.


He hated the fact that they had parted on such a bitter note. He wrote letters to Ayaou every night and added entries to his journal. It felt as if he were bleeding his misery onto the paper.

He dreaded going to bed because all he did was think about her. In his nightmares, he often saw her dead like Shao-mei. He stayed up late in the mess playing chess or joining conversations with British army officers.
To occupy the time, he tried to read by lantern light in his small cubbyhole of a room. But thoughts of Ayaou kept intruding. He often had to read the same page several times and eventually gave up.
The attacks against the city continued. Noise from rockets, rifle fire or cannons was a constant irritant.
China did not have a proper postal system. He couldn’t find an easy way to mail his letters and have them delivered. As impossible as the idea seemed, he swore if an opportunity presented itself in the future, he would do what he could to remedy that situation and create a Chinese postal system.
He had to do something to ease his loneliness. Slowly, he made friends among the military officers. He also made friends with a few of Canton’s Imperial Chinese officials he met as part of his job. When invited to eat at their houses, he felt more at home than he did in his quarters.
*    *    *
A British gunboat brought the first letter. He was disappointed when he discovered it was from Guan-jiah—not Ayaou.
“Master,” Guan-jiah wrote, “Ayaou believes you will abandon her. She has seen other foreigners do this to their concubines. To protect herself, she is busy tearing her passion and love for you out of her heart and head as if they were strands of gray hair. She is attempting to murder her feelings with poisonous words and thoughts.
“I know how much you love your concubine. It would be a tragedy if she stays in Macau. It is time to risk our lives and have us return to Canton. Even if we die, it would be better than the changes Ayaou is going through.”
Guan-jiah is wrong, Robert thought, shaking his head. Ayaou could never believe I’d abandon her. I risked my life to take her from Ward. She risked her life for me. There were times when we saved each other.
“Master,” Guan-jiah wrote in another letter, “You do not understand that it is only natural for Ayaou to fall back on her family and their Chinese ways to survive. Believe me when I say that the fear of being abandoned has never left her and is growing stronger.”
He threw that letter away. He believed Guan-jiah was filling his mind with delusional thoughts. Family was important to the Chinese, and the eunuch had no family to talk with. He’d been away from Ningpo too long. He probably wasn’t getting along with Ayaou’s family since they were boat people. Robert had not forgotten Guan-jiah’s opinions about boat people.
He’d had a conversation about this topic with Guan-jiah years before. “My great-grandmother was from the boat people,” his servant had said. “Great-grandfather was Han Chinese. He was a village farmer, who only owned one acre and couldn’t afford a better woman.”
Since Guan-jiah’s grandmother had been a boat person, he thought his servant would have liked Shao-mei. He even considered arranging a marriage between them. The next words the eunuch had spoken ended that notion.
“My grandmother was trouble like all boat people,” Guan-jiah had said. “My great-grandfather was fortunate when she died in childbirth without giving him the curse of a daughter.” It was regrettable that Guan-jiah harbored a bias against these boat people.
It amazed him that the Chinese, with all the different languages and dialects, managed to make the culture work. In many ways, China was like Europe. However, in Europe there were endless wars.
He saw the irony in the fact that Europe had imported its problems to China disturbing what had once been a peaceful kingdom. The Taipings were converted Christians led by a false prophet. Having them in China was like setting fire to brush soaked in oil.

Web Site: Our Hart, Elegy for a Concubine  

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