Back at the commission, Robert asked the first officer he met what had happened.
“Rebels blew up the northwest corner of the city wall and got inside,” the officer replied. “They managed to occupy two city blocks. We beat them back.”
The man’s face was smudged with gunpowder. His eyes pulsed with excitement. “The royal engineers are repairing the breech as we talk.”
* * *
A little after two in the afternoon, Robert was walking from Colonel Walsh’s quarters toward his when a rocket hit the ground in front of him sending sparks in every direction. Some of the sparks hit his face burning him. He leaped away from the heat. The rocket didn’t explode. If it had exploded, he would have been blown into pieces of flesh and bone.
There wouldn’t have been anything left to bury if that had happened. Ayaou would have been crushed into insanity and their unborn child would’ve grown-up without a father and treated as an outcast. Then he remembered the look in Guan-jiah’s eyes.
No, the child wouldn’t grow up without a father. He would have his adopted uncle, a eunuch who couldn’t have children of his own.
If anything happened to him, Guan-jiah would raise the child if Ayaou didn’t want it. And even if she kept the baby, Robert was sure Guan-jiah would stay close. The child would not go without love. He was sure Guan-jiah had enough for a dozen children. It was a relief that he had someone like Guan-jiah to depend on.
He stared at the rocket sticking out of the ground. Half of it was buried in the dirt. The shock drained the strength out of his legs. He leaned against the nearest wall to keep from collapsing.
Men came running. “Good god,” a colonel said. Several soldiers attempted lifting the rocket from the ground.
“What are you doing?” the colonel said. “It might explode. It could be a delayed fuse.” Everyone started to run. Robert managed to get his legs moving and followed.
Once he was inside peering around a sturdy doorframe at the rocket, he thought, Ayaou could’ve been a widow without ever having been a wife.
Just thinking about Ayaou as his wife, shook him. It was a subject he avoided knowing that his family, except for his sister Mary who was the least judgemental, would be shocked if he married a Chinese girl.
He resolved to write his last will and testament and leave what little money he had to Guan-jiah. His servant could use it to care for Ayaou and the child. The thought of dying without making provisions for the woman he loved and the child she carried horrified him.
How had he let such a thing come about? He’d been a fool. She belonged to another world that Ireland and England would never accept.
If he married her, he’d have no choice but to banish himself from home forever. No matter what happened between him and Ayaou, he resolved that he would do all in his power to take care of the child and see that he didn’t suffer. The next time he talked to Guan-jiah, Robert would tell his servant what he was planning regarding the child. Guan-jiah needed to be ready.
* * *
The Western forces poured out of the city a few hours later and counterattacked. At the same time, British and French gunboats in the river pounded the rebel positions. It was later estimated that the shelling killed two hundred. Soon after the shelling and the counterattack, the rebel forces retreated to the north. English and French scouts followed and reported that the rebels numbered between four and five thousand.
For the next few days, Robert joined Parkes as he attended funeral after funeral while a Chinese band played music in the background. The Chinese seemed to celebrate every funeral as if it were a birth and not a death.
He had to stop attending funerals. He’d seen enough dead people. With Ayaou and the baby in his thoughts, he decided to risk his life and see her one more time before he sent her to Macau and safety.
Links to Reviews for "Our Hart"
Honorable Mentions in General Fiction