Peking 1900 Ch. 05byjerseyblue©
Wallingham Manor 1905
Caroline entered the room. "What is all the commotion?"
Jack showed her the newspaper. "Isn't wonderful? Katherine is back here in England. I can see her again."
A frown crossed her face and she shook her head. "Jack, she is still a Baroness and most important, she is still married. How is going to see her again so wonderful?"
"Don't you understand? I can see her, talk to her again." Jack was beside himself with joy and Caroline was trying to make him understand what the situation truly was.
"So you see her, then what? Your heart gets broken again." Caroline held his hand. "Jack, think what this will cost you."
He had her sit down, still holding hands. He needed to explain himself to her; to make her understand why he needed to see Kate. The words poured out. " I love Kate and I know she loves me. My problem is I fell in love with a married woman. If I never met her then I wouldn't have put her in that position. I have caused her much grief. When she left Peking we never got a chance to say good-bye. It may be over between us but I have to know."
Caroline looked him in face. "You are good man, John Percival and I guess you deserve to know."
"Don't judge me too quickly. Michael was right about married women and I."
"What are you saying?" Caroline gave him a quizzical look.
"While in China Michael talked constantly about you. He described you down to the smallest detail. It got so I didn't need to see your picture he always cared with him. Compared to my situation, I became jealous of him. When I met you at your wedding, you were better than my imagination. And each time I have seen you my feelings have grown."
Caroline stood up and walked to the sideboard. "Are you saying what I think you are saying?"
"You are Michael's wife, my best friend's wife, and I have no right to feel this way. Maybe I'm jealous. I don't know."
"Then last night, when I came to you..."
"More than anything but I knew if I did, it would ruin 2 other people's lives. I already ruined my own."
Caroline turned and ran to him. She fell to the floor, kneeling and placing her head in his lap. "No, Jack, don't say that. You are a good man. You're kind, decent, and caring. You were there for me yesterday and last night. You showed your feelings in the best way possible. A different time, different place, perhaps."
Jack nodded. "It seems my fate with my love," he thought. "A different time, a different place, a different woman."
Again Jack rode the train, this time south to London. Like the last time he had time to think. When he left Caroline, she made it clear that he would always be welcomed at her home. She made him promise he would visit often and then kissed him in full view of some members of the staff. She then whispered in his ear that she hoped that might encourage him to visit again.
The last meeting with Michael was on his mind. It certainly ended badly but more importantly was the fact that Michael believed that something already had occurred between Caroline and him. If he continued to believe that, then there was no way to fix it. On the face of it, it seemed to Jack that Michael wanted it to happen and was pushing them together. For what reason he didn't know.
Finally Kate was where he could reach her. Caroline had made perfectly good sense as to why he shouldn't but it didn't matter. He had to see her even if just to return her locket. It might be the only way to clear her from his mind.
Jack reached London in a foul mood. He had wired ahead to tell Johnson what train he was on and when Johnson was a few minutes late, Jack almost chewed his head off. They rode in silence back to his flat. The falling rain mirrored his mood. When Johnson tried to remind him of the Monday meeting at the Embassy, Jack snarled that he knew and he expected Johnson to have everything ready in the morning. With that, he went up to his room.
The meeting on Monday was important as the Morocco Crisis was reaching the boiling point. Someone had to blink but no one wanted to lose face. If no one did, then war was a real possibility. Pres. Roosevelt had weighed in with a suggestion of a conference to talk, not fight. In information that was not to leave the room, Roosevelt backed the English and French position but more importantly he wanted the US included in any decision. If the US was to be a world power, it needed to be there.
As the meeting broke up, the Ambassador asked Jack to stay behind. "Excellent work on the British Naval alert, Major. The President was impressed also. It seems he knows you."
"Yes I met Mr. Roosevelt when I returned from China. I carried the dispatches to Washington and met him there. He is also friends with my family. He was only vice-president when I met him."
"I see," nodded the Ambassador. "I have an important job for you to do and I believe with, so I'll say, your connections, you can do it. I need you to work up the possible number of ships each country can put to sea. Battleships and cruisers only."
"Which countries, sir?" Jack asked.
"Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and Austria-Hungary. We have the US figures. The others are not as readily available."
"It may take a little time, sir."
"That's the rub, Major. We may not have time. Do this well and if everything works out, you can get some time away from here. I know I can count on you."
"Yes, sir. I'll get right on it."
Jack dived into the work. It seemed that nothing else matter and it took his mind off his personal dilemmas. He worked his contacts at all levels and with all the governments. In some cases he walked through the front doors of an Embassy and in other a meeting over dinner. He used his charm on some, male or female. For others, a little cash went a long way. He stayed late and arrived early. By late Wednesday afternoon he was done.
"Here you go, sir," Jack said presenting his paper. "As you can see, it is broken down by country and type of ship. I also included armament, condition, and present location. If possible, the name of the commanding officer."
"Good lord, Major. Job well done. It is more than we could ever want."
"Thank you, sir." Jack said. "Now if I may, I would like to go to my flat and sleep. And if possible, take that time you offered me?"
"By all means but leave a place where you can be reached. Just in case."
"Wallingham Manor, East Crosswicks, sir."
Jack was true to his word. He went straight to his flat and slept the sleep of the dead. Bright and early the next day he was up and on his way to Wallingham Manor. He really had no plans. He wasn't even sure if Kate would be there or even want to see him. He told Johnson that he may be back tonight or need him to bring some clothes for a longer stay.
It was not knowing that was killing him. In the Marines there was always some plan or an idea of a plan. In his current position, he could be cool and calculating but he knew his ultimate destination. When it came to women, it seemed to him, that nothing was clear. He led with his heart, not his head, especially with Kate, and even Caroline. For someone who could be quite smart, he could be incredibly stupid.
The village of East Crosswicks was a picturesque place. Except for the train station, Jack felt that it had changed very little in the last hundred years. He made his way to a small inn just off the green. Upon entering, some of the locals stopped their conversations and gave him the once over. He walked over the bar where a young lady stood. She appeared to be a little younger than Jack, blue eyes and freckles, a healthy country girl.
"Don't mind them," she said with a bright smile. "We don't get many strangers here. At least not ones like you." She looked him up and down. "What can I do for you?"
"I'd like a room, for at least 1 night, possible more. I'm not certain yet."
"Very good, sir. I can give you our best room. It is in the front and has windows facing the green so you can catch the breeze. And your name, sir?"
"Major John Percival."
The girl stepped from behind the bar and had him follow her upstairs. Showing him the room the girl turned to leave. "If you need any thing, my name is Colleen and I will be glad to help."
"Yes, there is one thing, Colleen." Jack moved towards her. "I'm here to see Lord Dufield. Can you tell me the way to Wallingham Manor?"
The girl gave him the directions explaining that it was about 5 miles west along the main road.
As Jack left the inn, he could hear a buzz of voices and some eyes upon him. He figured Colleen would tell them about him. Better to give them a little information than none at all. There would be rumors any way.
It being a warm summer day, Jack began walking to Wallingham. It was beautiful country, green and lush. He saw small quaint cottages and waved to the people he met along the way. It was a part of England he had never seen and it did his spirits good.
Finally he was there. As he walked up the crushed stone and shell driveway, he tried to figure out what to say. It was easier making that mad charge against the Boxers. He took a deep breath and knocked on the door.
It seemed an eternality before the door open. There stood the butler who asked, "Yes?"
"Is Katherine, the Baroness, at home?" Jack asked.
"Yes." The butler seemed to very hesitant to talk to Jack.
"I see. Is she receiving visitors?"
"Whom shall I say is calling, sir?"
"Major John Percival." Jack handed him his card.
"The Baroness and her Ladyship are in the garden. Please wait here." He motioned for Jack to wait in the hallway as he turned and left. Again the wait seemed agonizingly long.
The butler returned. "The Baroness will see you. Please follow me."
So this was it. After 5 years of being apart, Jack was going to see Kate. A hundred questions ran through his head. 5 years was a long time and people change, feelings change. Did she still care for him or had time, distance, and reality worked against him. His mouth felt dry, his palms sweaty.
"Baroness, your Ladyship," the butler announced him. "Major John Percival."
Jack stepped forward and took a deep breath. Kate was seating next to mother and put down the book she was reading. Jack noticed it was Sherlock Holmes. She was dress in a light blue dress that showed her arms and neck. Her blonde hair shone in the sun. She looked to have gained a few pounds but it appeared to Jack she hadn't changed.
My, Major," Kate said to him. "I believe that last time I saw you, you were a lieutenant. You have come up in the world." Her voice was calm but it was her eyes that betrayed her. Her breaths came rapidly.
"Yes Baroness," Jack replied. "It was a long time ago. Many things have happened since then."
"Are you going to introduce me, Kate," her mother asked.
"Yes, mother. This is John Percival, US Marines. He is the one I may have mentioned who was in Peking with us."
"Good afternoon, Major. If you were in Peking then I must thank you for your duty you did there. It seems you two may have lots to talk about and besides; I would like to go in. Are you staying for dinner?"
"That all depends, your ladyship," Jack extended his hand to help her up.
"The Major will be staying, Mother," Kate said.
As her mother left, Kate turned to Jack. "So why are you here? East Crosswick isn't just a place you happen to stop by."
"May we walk?" Jack asked. "I would like to talk to you."
The two walked quietly into the garden. Jack began to feel that Kate was holding something back from him and he felt it might be over between them.
He was right, Kate was holding something back. When she saw him walking towards her, it took all her self-control not to rush to him; to hold him, to kiss him. Perhaps he was here to tell her it was over and had been for a long time.
Jack spoke first. "We never got the opportunity to say good-bye in Peking. I know now that I never had a real chance with you. You could never leave the Baron." He reached into his shirt and pulled out her locket. "I have worn this since you gave it to me and now it is time to..."
Kate's heart skipped a beat when she saw the locket and heard that he had worn it for 5 years. She now knew where she stood. "Jack, the Baron is dead. He died almost 2 years ago."
"Yes, my darling, I am free to love who I want. If you still will have me."
"Still have you? Good Lord, Kate! I have loved you since we first met and I haven't stopped. I have tried to forget you but I couldn't." He grabbed her then kissed her.
All the pent up emotions swept over them. He kissed her lips, her neck, and her shoulders. She held his face in her hands and kissed him passionately.
Kate took him by the hand and led him further into the garden. As they were totally out of sight, they came to clearing. Kate looked around and then sunk to the ground. She pulled Jack down to her. "Jack, please, make love me now."
He needed no coaxing. As he positioned himself over her, she said, "Be gentle with me, my love."
What else could he be? She arched her back and gave out a long moan as he entered her. They had both waited a long time for this moment. The moment when they could express their love freely and unbridled.
"So what is next?" Kate said putting her arm in his and pulling him close as they walked from the garden.
"I'm not sure, Kate," Jack said stopping. "Are you truly free?"
"Yes, my love. I am," she smiled. "His son from his first wife is now the Baron von Schulenburg and his wife the Baroness. I'm now the Dowager, which makes me feel so old. I get an allowance and all the jewels he gave me. The rest belong to the family. His son and wife would like to see me out of the picture."
"Well, I didn't think this out but here goes," He dropped to his knee. "I don't have much to offer you. Not every a ring and not much of an exciting life. I love you, Kate. I think from the time I first saw you. So would you do me the great honor of being my wife?"
Tears filled her eyes. "I have waited over 5 years to be able to hear you ask that question. I thought I never would. Of course I will. And we can do it tonight!"
"Tonight?" Jack said taking her in his arms. "What about your parents? And what about a license? A pastor? What would people think?"
"John Percival, I'm surprised at you. When did you start worrying about what people think?" Kate laughed. "I'll take care of my parents. Let tell them now and then start making plans." Holding Jack's hand, she started for the house.
"Oh no," he laughed. "Not before this." With that he pulled her close and kissed her. "I love you, Kate."