Robert was letting go of the Ningpo house. The furniture would go into storage. When he sent for Guan-jiah and Ayaou, the furniture would come with them. He felt that Ayaou would be safer from Ward living with Guan-jiah’s family. Guan-jiah understood Ayaou’s importance to Robert. He was the only one he trusted with Ayaou’s welfare and safety.
If Ward had spies watching, he hoped they would follow him to Canton. That way, they wouldn’t notice where Ayaou went.
Guan-jiah said, “I will die, Master, before anyone touches one hair on her head.” He threw himself to the ground and started knocking his head against the stones. Robert lifted him to his feet before he hurt himself but not before he’d bruised his forehead.
“What have I told you about doing that, Guan-jiah? Never again.”
“I am sorry, Master. I am like an acorn, and China is the oak.”
* * *
Canton was a long journey from Shanghai and Ningpo. Robert sailed aboard the Prospero. The voyage south from Ningpo to Hong Kong covered nine hundred miles. He stayed in Hong Kong for a few days and met a young, attractive American.
“My name is Patricia,” she said. He could tell she was an American by her colonial accent. She’d surprised him by being the first to speak. Most proper British women would have waited for the man to start the conversation and then would have replied only under proper circumstances. That meant a chaperon had to be there along with her parent’s approval.
A moment of silence stretched between them until he realized she was waiting for him to respond. “My name is Hart, Robert Hart,” he said.
“Ah, you are Irish,” she said. “I can tell by your accent. I’ve always loved the Irish. My grandfather came to America from Ireland.” She cocked her head at an angle and smiled. It was a cute gesture, and his body responded. This weakness embarrassed him. He hoped she wouldn’t notice.
“How long have you been in China? What do you do? It’s exciting, isn’t it?” She had a smooth cream-colored complexion. Her lips were full and inviting. She had shiny, straw colored hair. Her eyes were sky blue. He was tempted to touch her hair to see if it were as soft as it looked.
“I’ve been here for almost four years,” he replied. “I work for the British consulate as an interpreter.” He felt his neck heating under the tight, white collar. Good god, he was turning red. He hated when that happened.
Her eyes grew wide. “You speak Chinese,” she said. “How fantastic!” For an instant, he thought she was going to jump up and down like a child. “I hoped that you wouldn’t be another boring merchant who can think of only one thing—money.”
He almost laughed. She had flashing eyes. He couldn’t help but notice that she also had an ample bosom. His desire was heading toward the boiling point. This was how it had always started in college.
“I hate to be so forward, Robert,” she said, “but I’m on my way to Singapore in a few days to visit my father. He works there. I have no friends here and no one to dine with.” She touched his wrist with her fingertips. Her touch lingered too long. His breath became shorter, faster. He struggled to stay in control. “After we eat, you could go shopping with me. Your Chinese will come in handy.”
She was attractive. He was taken by her. He was ready to accept her invitation to dine. Then he remembered Ayaou. Before falling in love with Ayaou, he would not have hesitated but his world had changed. He had not realized how much until this moment. A voice screamed inside his head telling him to accept and take her to dinner and shopping. Afterwards, anything might happen. His imagination went exploring—his hands touching her naked body. She responded.
“I’m sorry, Ma’am, but as lovely and fetching as you are, I’m not free to dine with a single woman. You see, I have a wife. I love her.”
You are a liar. Ayaou is not your wife, an inner voice said. She is your concubine. The Chinese will not condemn you if you take this woman.
If I did cheat, he replied, it would hurt Ayaou.
That doesn’t matter, the voice said. Ayaou is a piece of furniture that you own. How can property complain?
There was the disappointment in Patricia’s eyes. That didn’t help him.
Sleep eluded him that night. He regretted not accepting her offer. While he had been in college in Belfast, his goal had been to get the girl he wanted in bed as quickly as possible. That eventually got him in trouble with his father and was the reason he was in China. Not only had he embarrassed his family, but he had caught syphilis too.
Since he’d had intercourse with so many young women in Belfast, he wasn’t sure who gave it to him. After arriving in China, the same weakness drove him to have sex with Me-ta-tae. That resulted in Payne Hollister turning into his enemy. He didn’t know what was worse—having syphilis or another man hating him.
He should have been glad he had rejected the American girl. Instead, he was confused. The only way to evict the image of Patricia and shut off the voice inside his head was to masturbate.
After the voice was silent, he slept. Soon he would be in Canton and have other problems to deal with like surviving the Arrow War.
Links to Reviews for "Our Hart"
Honorable Mentions in General Fiction