Peking 1900 Ch. 02byjerseyblue©
"Nice of you to show up, Lieutenant." The British ambassador said with an air of disgust.
"Sorry,sir. It won't happen again, sir," Lt. Percival replied. He looked over at Capt. Roberts who rolled his eyes.
"We do things a little different in the English military. Oh, well, we can continue."
As the ambassador began the briefing, Percival nudge the officer next to him. "What did I miss?"
Lt. Michael Smyth-Beddoes was in Her Majesty's Royal Marines and could be considered Jack's best friend. The two of them came from similar family backgrounds and understood that they both wanted to make their own way. The two were of the same height and build and were known about Peking for some interesting incidence they pulled off. But if there were two officers that could be relied on, it was these two.
"Nothing. The old boy is proving to everyone he is in charge."
The ambassador first explained that through his network of spies he knew that a relief column was on its way. Unfortunately there had been heavy fighting along the rail line and now the relief was on foot. Second there had been food and water for 60 days and since the siege was entering its 50th day, it was becoming a real concern. Third if reports of relief were true, more, larger, and more desperate attacks all along the perimeter of the defense could be expected
With that last comment, Colonel Williamson, the ranking military officer, spoke. "Each unit has been assigned a key position in our defense. In some cases, only one national unit such as the Japanese position will be there. In all cases this is because of the size of the unit not because of the position's importance. I want that understood. Also each position will have a unit assigned as its reserve. There may be a language difficulty so make sure this is worked out before hand. Are there any questions?"
There were none so the meeting broke up. As they left Michael turned to Jack. "I see that our two units are together. That might cause a problem."
"In what way?"
"Why, the language. I can't understand a word you Yanks say." Both the men laughed as they left the building.
As the two lieutenants walked to their position, they passed the German Embassy. Standing on the porch was the Baroness von Schulenburg. The men tipped their hats and smiled. The Baroness gave a small wave.
Michael elbowed Jack. "You are a lucky man, my friend."
Before Jack could answer, the Baroness called to him. "Lt. Percival, may I have a word with you?"
Jack spun on his heels and walked over to the porch. She looked straight at him. Jack marveled at the way she managed to look so unconcerned. He made to grab her hands but something in her eyes signaled caution. He realized there were several other women standing nearby, and although they were apparently engaged in conversations, he had a feeling they were watching their every move. "Yes, Baroness, What can I do for you?" he said formally and politely.
Kate bent forward and took one of his hands.
"You look wonderful," he whispered. "I want to hold you, touch you.
Kate dropped her eyes and he saw her breasts moving quickly despite her guard. "Please, Jack. I cannot bear it. To have you so close and yet..."
He looked around. "I love you, Kate."
She forgot her caution and reached up to touch his mouth. "Shh. Do not torture yourself." She could barely hold back her tears.
"I have to go, Kate." He could smell the clean smell of soap on her and wanted all the more to hold her, to shut out everything and everyone.
She quickly glanced around. "Jack, I want you to have this," She placed a small locket into his hand.
"What's this?" he whispered.
"It was my Grand mama's. I want you to take it."
Jack attempted to give it back. "I can't take this!"
"Look, my darling, we don't know what the future will bring. My Grand mama gave it to me saying it will bring love and luck. I have found my love and now you will have the luck. Take it and go before I do something foolish," she whispered. "Our nights together I will never, never forget no matter what happens." With that Kate kissed Jack's forehead and then left to enter the building.
Michael was waiting for Jack as he returned. "I told you. One lucky man."
"In what way?" Jack asked with an edge to his voice.
"To have found such an incredible creature as her in all this madness," Michael said as they walked. "I don't credit all things I hear but I would like to."
"Lucky? Do you call falling in love with the woman of your dreams, someone who is perfect in all ways, lucky? A woman you can never have because she is married. The one love of your life that you most likely will never see again when this is over. Lucky?"
"I'm sorry, Jack. I didn't realize."
Jack put his hand on Michael's shoulder. "It is not your fault. Besides you're the lucky man. Let's see that photograph of that beautiful fiancée of yours again."
Michael showed Jack the photo of a striking young lady. As Jack looked at it, he was struck with a feeling of envy. Michael had described her in great detail and she seemed like the perfect match. It was plain to see that Michael was in love with her and had great plans for the future. A life after this.
Jack handed it back. "No, Mike, you are the lucky man."
Lt. Percival removed his hat and wiped his sweaty brow. "Damn, it was hot." He loosen the top button of his shirt hoping against hope that it might cool him off. As he did, he felt Kate's locket. Maybe it would bring him luck.
A quick glance to the left and right told him all of his men were in position behind the low wall and barricade. Further to his right he could see the scarlet tunics of the Royal Marines. As he looked to his front, he saw the charging mass of the Boxers, spreading away to either side in a human tide.
"Steady, boys. Pick your targets." Not that it mattered. It was impossible to miss.
The rifles fired along the line, but even as the men jerked the bolts and refired, the oncoming horde was upon them.
The first Boxers on his right crossed the barricade; their wild eyes and piercing screams could make the strongest falter. As knives and axes flashed, the bayonets lunged and withdrew, urged on by Jack and the NCOs.
A wild-eyed Boxer appeared directly in front of Jack but his cry was cut short as the bullet from Jack's revolver crashed through his forehead.
The heavy and rapid fire from the Marines cut down many as the mass behind them continued to move forward.
Suddenly someone yelled, "They're pulling back, sir!" The Marines fired a last volley and brought down another file of retreating figures before Jack ordered them to cease fire.
As silence descended on that part of the field, he could hear firing all along the defense perimeter. Perhaps another barricade had fallen and the Boxers had broken through.
"Not here," Jack thought.
He saw Michael wave to him and waved back. At least he was still alive.
"Here they come again!"
They came on more slowly this time, saving themselves for the last few yards. "Hold your fire, men."
It took nerves of steel to stand and wait as the screaming horde came closer. The men stood steady along the bags of sand and grain, the carts, and pieces of wood.
Suddenly with an angry scream they rushed the barricade and were greeted with a hail of gunfire. Only this time the mob crashed over the obstacle. There was a lot of smoke and leaping flame along the line. Once inside the perimeter, they would be hard to stop.
Along the barricade the rifles cracked and spat at the oncoming horde. Some of the enemy must have fallen but they were trampled underfoot so that it appeared as if the yelling, screaming ranks were unstoppable.
The US Marines and Royal Marines were now intermingled, forming small knots of men, fighting together. Jack found himself standing next to Michael.
"We can't hold, Jack. Must fall back."
"Can't. We need to hold until the reserve comes up." Jack yelled as he fired his revolver into the surging mob.
Without orders, both Marine units broke under the pressure and began to stream rearward. The mass of Boxers seemed to sway as one and then charge as they realized that the defenders were running for their lives.
As he was swept along, Jack believed Michael was right behind him. He realized what had happened when he turn to look. There he saw his friend writhing on the ground, blood pouring from a terrible wound in his leg, and a huge Boxer standing over him about to drive a pike into his back.
At that moment, something snapped in Jack. He was not going to retreat another inch. He had promised her.
"God dammit, Marines!" he screamed. "Do you want to live forever? Follow me!" With that, Jack ran screaming back towards the barricade. He fired his revolver and dropped the towering Boxer. Somewhere he had picked up a rifle. Throwing away the now empty revolver he waded into the mass.
A Boxer swung an axe at him, which he blocked with the rifle. The force of the blow knocked his hat off and nicked him above the eye. Jack kicked the Chinaman in the crotch and then swung the rifle. As the Boxer fell, Jack drove the bayonet into him.
He felt a sting in his left arm. Quickly he turned and fired, killing the man.
Jack could only vaguely recall what happen next as the charging Marines poured a devastating volley in the crowd. The Marines' charge caught the Boxers off balance and pushed them over the barricade.
"They're running, sir. We did it!" a sergeant yelled at Jack.
It took a moment for it to sink it. They had held. He kept his promise.
Kate had heard what had happen and rushed to the hospital. All kinds of rumors were swirling around and no one knew which were true or not. One she had heard was about a Marine officer who led a wild charge to hold one of the barricades and was wounded doing it. She knew it was Jack.
She pushed her way into the crowded ward. The sounds of wounded men, in many different languages filled the room. She knew he was somewhere but where? Through a doorway, she saw him.
Jack was sitting, shirtless, on a table. A bandage wrapped around his head and another around his upper left arm, a wound he didn't realize he had until after the fight. When he saw Kate, he stood up.
"What you doing here. This is no place for you," he scolded her.
"I couldn't stay away, not knowing," She hugged him tightly. "If I lost you..."
Jack took her by the hand and led her out a door to a quiet courtyard. He turned to speak to her.
Instead Kate placed both her hands along side his face and kissed him. The kiss was one of passion, relief, and longing. It was kiss that symbolized all her feelings.
Jack responded by pushing her up against the wall and kissing her deeply. Kate lifted her legs and wrapped them around him, her hands moving quickly to undo his trouser buttons.
"I want you now, Jack. I don't care who knows. Love me now."
Jack pushed himself into her. Kate threw her head back in a silent scream as he thrusted in and out. Their passion swept over them as they made love in the courtyard.
When they were done, they held each other tightly, neither one wanting to be the first to let the other one go. As they held each other, they heard the sounds of cheering. It was faint at first but grew ever louder.
They released each other and stepped from the courtyard. Many people were running, laughing in the streets. Jack grabbed a young Chinese boy and asked him what was all the shouting about. The young man explained the Boxers were gone and many soldiers had come.
"Do you know what that means, Kate?" Jack said laughing. "We're saved."
Kate began to cry, tears of joy, tears of despair. She knew what it meant. It meant salvation and loss.
Suddenly Jack knew too.
The next few days were hectic for everyone. Because of his wounds, Jack had light duty but it still meant he was busy. He tried to make time to see Kate but she was also very busy at the Embassy.
Jack had also acquired a new nickname. It came about as Colonel Williamson was told of his charge. The Colonel asked to meet Jack and upon meeting him, told him and others that Jack must had been quite mad to do what he did. The comment spread around the men and they began to call him, "Mad Jack" Percival. At least behind his back.
Jack heard that the Baron was being sent home to Germany for a well- deserved rest. He rushed over to the German Embassy just in time to see Kate being assisted to a carriage under full military escort. He only had a chance to touch her hand. He saw the tears in her eyes as she looked at him and then turned away. It seemed like a dream. Something that had happened and which he could not understand or accept.