Peking 1900 Ch. 01byjerseyblue©
"What the hell am I doing here?" Lt. Percival asked himself. He had spent a day in the hot unforgiving sun and now as it went down it took very little of the heat with it. Jack was parched, tired, and baked. The water in his canteen was lukewarm and basically undrinkable. His blue wool shirt was soaked with sweat. He leaned up against the barricade and looked skyward, letting the sweat run down his back. "Well," he thought, "You got what you asked for."
Jack Percival looked out the large window to see whitecaps on the Chesapeake as the wind whipped the snowflakes and rain against the panes. An early spring storm lashed the area as Jack turned around and walked to the fireplace. The light from the fire cast a warm glow to the dark paneling of the library and made him glad he was inside tonight. Jack looked around the room. On the walls were portraits of his famous ancestors; Hiram Percival who fought alongside Jones and Barney in two wars; Samuel Percival who was with Perry when he opened Japan; and finally William Percival who was with Farragut at Mobile Bay and commanded his own ship at Manila Bay; a family full of naval tradition which was to be handed down to Jack, who was in his final year at the Academy, 3rd in class and set to follow in their footsteps. The only problem was he didn't want it. He wanted to establish his own path, his own tradition and tonight he was taking that first step. He gulped down his final swallow of brandy as the door of the library opened.
William, "Bloody Billy", Percival, Commodore USN strode into the room. Even dressed in his evening clothes, he commanded everyone's attention. Just under 6 feet tall with gray flecked hair and drooping moustache, the man walked into the library as if he was patrolling the quarterdeck. Entering behind him was his wife, Jane. She stood off to one side.
"Now, what is this nonsense I hear?" Jack's father grumbled.
Jack pulled himself up to his full height. He was a few inches taller than his father and broad chested. His blue eyes shined when he aroused to do battle as they were now.
"It is not nonsense, Father. I've made a decision." The battle lines were drawn.
"I have the final say in this house. And what I say goes." His father was not going to back down but either was Jack.
"Father, for all my life I've been in the shadows of the Percivals. I want to blaze my own trails. To be my own man."
"Good God, son, you can do that in the Navy. I didn't go to the Academy and I earned everything I have. You have a great opportunity and can do the same."
"No, Father. It would always be, 'There goes 'Bloody Billy's son.' I am going my own way and that's it. Upon graduation, I'm taking a commission in the Marine Corps." Jack didn't shout but firmly, calmly stated his case.
"You are throwing your life away, Jack. A God Damn Jarhead! I'll not lift one finger to help you. Don't come crawling back to me for anything, you understand? Nothing!" His father didn't raise his voice but the anger was present. All those years in command gave "Bloody Bill" Percival the ability to remain calm under all circumstances. "We are done here!" He turned on his heels and left.
Jack stood there quietly. He didn't know what to expect but this wasn't it. Perhaps he expected a harder fight or yelling. Something more than this. It was over. His bridges had been burned.
Jane Percival stepped from the shadows and walked to Jack, arms outspread. She took his hands and smiled. "I'm very proud of you and your mother would be too. It took real backbone to stand up to him. I've seen other men crumble before him."
Jane was really Jack's step mother. She had met his father in Hong Kong where her father was involved in trade with China. William Percival was there with the US Asiatic Fleet and the two met at a fancy ball at the British embassy. Jack's mother had died two years before when he was ten. Jane was twenty at the time and after a whirlwind romance, married. That was nearly ten years ago. She was a real beauty and people marveled at her form and grace. She exhibited calmness to everything and was able to communicate this to her husband. She took the edge off of him. Those who were close believed it was the final piece he needed to rise to his present rank.
Jack didn't look at Jane as his mother; she was more like an older sister. In a way it was actually better. They were able to talk about more things and because of the nearness in age relate better. She knew about his decision and helped him think it though instead of rushing to a conclusion. She also instilled in him love for the Orient and his desire to go there. She encouraged his talent for languages and was the force behind him learning German, French, and Mandarin Chinese. He even dabbled in Russian. He was a natural.
"Don't worry, Jack," she said softly,"he'll calm down. I know this is a big decision but I think, in time, your father will understand and accept it."
Jack was jolted out of his daydream.
"Lieutenant, you are relieved."
"Yes, sir." Jack replied to Capt. Roberts.
"Before you go, any changes?"
"No, sir," Jack replied. "The Chinks keep up that blaring music but you get use to it. Someone over there has a Mauser so if you pop your head up for a look, he'll try and take it off. They are attempting to move that barricade closer but we have been keeping an eye on them. Other than that, nothing new to report."
"Very well, you can go."
As he started to crawl away, the Captain grabbed his arm. "How long were you here?"
"12 hours, sir."
The Captain shook his head. "Damn, you should have been relieved hours ago. Get some sleep. And I do mean sleep!" The captain gave him a knowing smile.
The captain was right. He needed to sleep but he needed something more. Instead of heading to the American Consulate, he turned down a narrow, dark alley. Normally a Westerner would not walk alone down an alley like this after dark but tonight it was different. The streets were eerily quiet and empty. It seemed no one was out and only a few dim lights came from any windows. Jack's senses were on high alert for any movements. He unclasped his holster. There were none. It was as if the city was deserted.
It had been almost 7 weeks since the Boxers had effectively closed down the city of Peking. All Westerners were in fear of their lives and had huddled into the small area where the consulates were. This area included ones from Germany, Russia, France, England, Italy, and the United States, to name some. Each nation supplied a small number of men, military and civilian, to protect the surrounding walls. Jack's Marines were among them.
It was believed that a relief force was on its way but no news had reached the city. Hope was beginning to dwindle.
He stopped at a small non-descript door. Looking around, he then knocked twice, then twice again. A small Chinese girl opened the door a crack and peered out. Jack uttered one word and the girl opened the door beckoning him to come in quickly. She stuck her head out, looked both ways and shut the door, latching it. The girl motioned to follow her. Jack did so trying to avoid objects almost unseen in the dim light. They walked quietly pass small rooms from which soft light, strange aromas, and subdued sounds came through the curtain doorways. Jack could feel the present of people nearby but never could really see any one. They headed up a narrow stairway and the girl stopped at one of the doors, opened it and with a quick hand motion had Jack enter the room. She pointed to a couch and had him sit. She knelt before him and removed his boots. The girl couldn't have more than fourteen years old. When she bent over, her breasts spilled from her robe and she made no effort to cover herself. She rose and left through another passageway.
Jack felt a cool breeze on his face and smelled a scent of jasmine. He slowly opened his eyes. There, standing before him was a vision from a dream. "Kate," he said softly, rising to his feet.
"Kate" was the Baroness Katrina von Schulenburg, wife of Baron von Schulenburg, the German ambassador to China. Before her marriage she was simply Katherine Alexander, daughter of Lord and Lady Dufield of Wallingham Manor. The marriage, an arraigned one, was more like a business agreement where Lord Dufield got money to pay off some heavy debts and the Baron got a beautiful young wife. As far as Jack could see the Baron got the better of the deal as no amount of money could equal Kate.
Jack met Kate over a month ago at a ball held in the French Embassy, a time before all this madness. He saw her across the crowded dance floor and immediately was drawn to her. Dressed in a long dark blue shimmering gown, she looked exquisite. Her blonde hair was piled high on head showing off a flawless neck. As she turned towards Jack, her blue eyes seemed to reflect the room's light and her smile made her face glow.
"Excuse me, Baroness," Jack said, slightly bowing. "Would you care to have this dance?"
"Why yes, Lieutenant..."
"Lieutenant John Percival, United States Marine Corps. At your service." He offered her his arm and they moved to the dance floor.
As the band struck up a waltz, Jack and Kate moved effortlessly around the dance floor. The two moved as if they had done it many times before. Close up she was not merely beautiful, she was entrancing. Her hair was the color of honey, her eyes sparkled. Dancing with her Jack felt clumsy and ungraceful. He also didn't want the music to stop. But it did.
"My, lieutenant," Kate said with a laugh. "I haven't danced liked that in quite some time. It felt good. Would you care to meet my husband?"
The Baron von Schulenburg was talking to others in the diplomatic corps as they approached. As Jack grew closer, he found it difficult to picture him in uniform before he became a respected diplomat. The Baron was a colonel in the Franco-Prussian War before he moved over to the Foreign Service. Now in his sixties, balding with a slight paunch, the Baron was the senior ambassador in Peking.
Jack clicked his heels and bowed before him. In perfect German he introduced himself. The Baron smiled and thanked him for dancing with his wife. "At my age, it has become difficult to dance these dances."
Kate had moved along side her husband. Beside him, she looked like a young girl playing a role, a dutiful wife. A look of surprise crossed her face as Jack continued the conversation with the Baron in German. She did not expect this from him. As Jack made a move to end the talk and move away, Kate said, "Lieutenant, would you mind escorting me back to the embassy. I'm not use to all this dancing and I feel a little faint."
"If the Baron doesn't mind, I would be honored."
The two walked slowly back, taking in the warm summer night. They talked of many things, as if they had known each before. Reaching the embassy, Jack asked if he could call on her again.
"I say, you are bold," Kate said.
Jack immediately apologized. "I'm sorry, Baroness. I just assumed you enjoyed this evening as much as I did."
Kate blushed but in the darkness Jack couldn't see it. She couldn't tell him how much she did enjoy it. For the first time in a long time, she found herself alone with a man her own age. A man who seemed alive and not like the men she was forced to be with. It excited her.
"Yes, you may call me any time, Lieutenant, but don't you think we should be less formal? Please call me Katherine and I will call you John."
He stepped back and took her hand. "My friends call me Jack."
Jack called on her every chance he got. They walked the crowded streets of Peking or sat along one of the canals enjoying the summer sun. Often they sat together, Jack with his head in Kate's lap as she read the latest Sherlock Holmes mystery. It became clear to both of them that they were growing closer. She made him laugh and he made her forget she was married.
The Baron didn't seem to care that Jack was calling on Kate. He enjoyed talking to Jack and found him to be well informed. Besides the Baron spent much of his free time playing chess with the Countess Radshachev, the wife of the Russian ambassador. The Countess was closer to the Baron in age and despite being overweight, retained some of her earlier beauty. There were rumor that the two shared more than just a game of chess.
Neither Jack nor Kate would admit to their growing love until the night Kate gave herself to him. She was not a virgin but she was not experienced in the ways of making love.
"I am afraid, Jack," she admitted. "Afraid I won't be good enough for you. Please be gentle and understanding."
That night she understood what it was to taken by a man who could love her the way she should be. Both of them knew there could be no turning back.
The next day the Boxers attacked and their world turned upside down.
"Kate," he said again.
She was wearing the same dark blue robe that she wore that first time they made love. Her hair hung down her back, more like gold in the faint light. She did not resist as he took her shoulders and pulled her against him. Jack held her closer and touched her hair. He could feel her soft warmth beneath her robe. She rested her head on his shoulder.
Somewhere in the musty building a clock chimed. It sounded doleful, like a dirge. One o'clock.
Suddenly she said, "I need air. Shall I open a window? There can be no danger if the light is out."
He released her reluctantly. Has she done that deliberately and was now in control of herself? He turned and blew out the lamp as she opened the long curtains and pushed the heavy shutters away from the windows.
"Look at the moon, Jack." She sounded excited, like a little child.
He moved behind her, his hands on her waist as he looked at the moon. He kissed her neck. It felt hot like she had a fever. He felt her shiver.
Without turning, Kate asked, "Will help come?"
"They will come. You can depend on it." He lied because he knew he had to.
Kate turned and looked at him. "But if the Boxers..."
Jack pulled her closer. "The Boxers will not get through. You must believe that. I promise nothing will happen to you."
She turned easily in his arms and looked into his face, although Jack could not see her face in the darkness. She did not resist as he lowered his mouth to hers and kissed her gently. She did not pull away but kissed him in return. When he slipped his hand into her robe and held her breast, Kate sighed.
He began to caress it. It felt alive, warm and full. He pinched her nipple and she moaned, "Oh God, yes."
Suddenly she struggled to be free of his arms and pushed him away. "What are we doing? We are only fooling ourselves. We have no future, no tomorrow. They are not coming."
Jack moved towards her. "I want you, Kate. I want you now. Tomorrow be damned."
He took her to him again and tried to soothe her despair. She nodded against his chest. "I want you too, desperately. It feels so right to be with you." She tugged at the cord about her neck and allowed the robe drop to the floor. Jack could see her beautiful, naked body framed by the pale light.
He whispered to her, "I'll lock the door." He then unbuckled his belt and laid it and his revolver on a chair. He unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it over his head. He turned and realized she was gone. Confused, he then heard her voice call out from the darkness, "Jack."
He moved into the deeper shadows and saw her arms rising from the bed to embrace him. In the faint moonlight he could see her, her blonde hair in disorder around her shoulders. He bent over and kissed her breast, his tongue swirling around her erect nipple. His hand caressed the gentle curve of her stomach and when he reached that soft, moist place between her legs, Kate arched her back and moaned.
Jack threw the rest of his clothes on the floor. He lowered himself onto her. He kissed her mouth and felt her lips part, her tongue on his as he kissed her harder. She reached for him, her hands frantic as they gripped his body. He felt Kate's hand reached out and guide him to her. She gasped once and spread her legs as he entered her.
Quickly the two matched rhythm as they moved together. It was like nothing Kate had ever known. The feeling continued to grow as the two lovers became lost in their own world. She cried out, "Yes, Jack, oh God yes," as it swept over her. Jack followed shortly after and they collapsed in a sweaty embrace.
When they finished, it was a long time before they moved. When he made to move off her, Kate seized his hair with both hands and whispered, "No, stay. I can still feel you. Try and sleep. I will hold you."
When the window became edged with gray they stirred. They made love again, with the quiet frenzy of illicit lovers.
Jack found himself half running down the staircase, finishing dressing as he went. He should have been totally exhausted as he couldn't remember sleeping at all. All he could recall was the sound of her voice, her taste on his lips, and the passion of the night.
Reaching the littered street, he stopped and stared up at the fading stars. "Dear God," he said softly. "Help me keep my word."