Feeling resentment, he maintained his neutral expression. He did not like being treated like a schoolboy. He had disliked Horatio from the day they had first met in Shanghai in 1854.
“Robert, you are wrong. China still owes Britain, France and the United States reparations for losing the Opium War. When the Treaty of Nanking was signed on August 29, 1842, China had to open five treaty ports for trade; pay an indemnity of six million for the opium destroyed by Commissioner Lin; three million for debts owed to British traders by Canton merchants, and another twelve million to England for the cost of the war. Two years later, France and the United states made similar demands.
“Without a steady source of revenue, the emperor has no way to pay back those reparations.” He started to laugh. When he calmed, he said, “I always find it amusing that Britain and France started the war, but the Chinese have to pay because they lost. The emperor is lucky. Britain and France could have conquered China and divided it between them. I believe it would have been better if they had.”
Horatio’s smile vanished. “Before that, everyone working for the British consulate service was in the pay of someone like Patridge, but times have changed. If we allow the opium merchants to cheat the Chinese, the British, French and the United States governments will not be paid. Our loyalty must be to Britain first. There is enough theft among Chinese officials as it is. If the Ch’ing Dynasty is to survive and keep China stable so trade can flourish with Britain, they need a steady source of revenue and that is our job. Do you understand, Hart?”
Robert stood with the papers he had gathered from the floor. “Yes, Horatio. I have had the same thoughts myself. No more taking bribes.”
“Exactly.” Horatio switched from English to Mandarin. “I thought you and I might have a like mind. I knew you were in Patridge’s pay as was I. I wanted to sound you out to see if you had changed your ways.
“I have been hearing good things from the Chinese about you, and Harry Parkes has nothing but good to say. Be careful, Hart. There are those who will trample you to climb to the top. You and I are on our way and if you do right by me, I will do right by you. One day, you will be assisting me in running China for Britain. When that time comes, the Ch’ing Dynasty will do our bidding as we see fit.”
He replied in flawless Mandarin, “You have nothing to worry about, Horatio. We have seen the last of Patridge’s money. I will not disappoint you.”
He didn’t tell Horatio that he had already decided. When he accepted the job, his loyalties switched to the Ch’ing Dynasty and no one else. He could not work for two masters. Horatio would learn one day. Now wasn’t the time to let him discover his true feelings. He had to establish himself first.
The truth was that he wanted Britain and China to be friends. He admired the Chinese that much.
“My, my,” Horatio said. “You are as good as they say you are with this barbaric language. I still remember when you first arrived in China and could not say one proper word in Mandarin. Now your accent is flawless and is better than mine is. If I closed my eyes, I would think I was talking to someone from the emperor’s imperial court.
“Robert, mark my words, before we leave China we will be rich, powerful men. Our names will be in the history textbooks.”
Robert couldn’t imagine how that was going to happen.
Links to Reviews for "Our Hart"
Honorable Mentions in General Fiction