Image courtesy My Secret London
Gordon, ironically enough, wasn’t terribly fond of Gordon’s.
The wine bar had good vintages at good prices, it was true. It was at least a few steps from London’s main thoroughfares and foot traffic, making it good for meetings. The fact was, Gordon was taller than most, and he really had to stoop to function comfortably beneath the low ceilings in Gordon’s cellar. However, that was where Sir Bertram insisted on unofficial meetings. Gordon was inclined to oblige the man.
So, he shook off the rain from his Macintosh, divested himself of it along with his hat and walking stick, dug into his pocket for his pipe, and lit his cavendish mix as he walked down the stairs. Sure enough, Sir Bertram was in his favorite corner table, checking his pocket watch with one hand and lifting a glass of a dark red with the other. Gordon managed to make his way there and take a seat without causing too much discomfort, and also without his tobacco going out again. He leaned back and took a long draw from the pipe.
“Thank you for coming, Gordon.”
“You summoned me, Sir Bertram, I assume it was due to something important that could not wait until our next meeting at Scotland Yard.”
“Indeed.” The knight took a sip of his wine. “Do you remember George Stenz?”
“The German? He studied under your father at the seminary, did he not?”
“The very same. Our friends from the Kaiser told me he’s missing.”
“Missing! Where was he last seen?”
“He is, or was, serving as a missionary in China’s Juye County, along with two other men. He has never been one to refrain from speaking his mind, and he and his fellows were exempt from many of China’s laws. So, about a week ago, twenty to thirty armed men stormed their home, and hacked his fellow missionaries to death in their beds.”
Gordon removed the pipe from his mouth and passed his other hand across his forehead. “Bless my soul. And Stenz is missing, you say?”
“Indeed. The Kaiser is furious. His German East Asia Squadron is sailing for China as we speak.”
“Will there be war?”
“Not if the Chinese do what we have done for them many times in the past. A little kow-tow would go a long way to soothing William’s hackles. But there is the matter of Stenz.”
Gordon took a draw of his tobacco, his free hand’s fingers smoothing his mustache. “You need me to find him.”
Sir Bertram’s sideburns crinkled as he nodded with a stern expression. “As expediently as possible, there’s a good chap.”
“Are we that eager to do our own appeasing of the Kaiser?”
“It has nothing to do with appeasement.” Sir Bertram gestured for a waiter. “On the contrary. We can’t allow the Germans to have the only solid foothold in the region following this blatant attack on Christendom. In order to ensure we have something with which to bargain, and not wishing to have our own people hacked to bits, we want to return Stenz to his countrymen.” The waiter poured Sir Bertram a fresh glass. “And you, my boy, are one of the very finest in Her Majesty’s service at finding individuals lost in foreign lands.”
Gordon frowned. “My Mandarin is not as strong as my Farsi or Hindi. I’m out of practice.”
“You’ll be perfectly fine. I have every confidence in you, and so does Her Majesty.”
Nodding, the foreign agent got to his feet, stooping under the low ceiling arch of the cellar. “I’ll go make preparations.” He paused. “How bad do you think this could get?”
“Bad. The Russians and French are mobilizing delegations of their own. I have no idea what the Japanese are up to, but considering their proximity it’s a fair bet they’ll want to carve out something for themselves. Next thing we know, the damn Yanks could be involved.”
“And what about the Boxers?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“The Boxers. The Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists. Is it possible they’re behind this?”
Sir Bertram stroked one of his sideburns. “I suppose so. They do have a penchant for hunting down foreigners of different religions. But I doubt the threat will be that great.”
Gordon shook his head, bending closer to Sir Bertram, his hand on the brickwork arch above his head. “Sir Bertram, part of the reason I am as good as you and Her Majesty believe is because of my time spent abroad. I have spent enough of that time in China to know that the Boxers are not some minor insurgency movement. They are more numerous than you think and more disciplined than most civilian movements tend to be. They do not want us in their country, and if the Germans are the first European power to go for a slice of the Chinese pie with everyone following suit, their distaste for us could turn violent.”
Gordon took a deep breath and made a mental calculation he did not want to make. “If they do not persuade their rulers to resist us, they may rebel. There will indeed be war, and not amongst ourselves, but rather against an untested and unknown foreign power.”
Sir Bertram gave this a few minutes’ thought. Then, draining his wine glass, he looked up at Gordon. “In that case, your orders are thus: Find Stenz. Learn what you can about the Boxers. Then return here. You will give a full report at Buckingham Palace then.”
Gordon nodded, turning towards the stairs. “England must be ready, Sir Bertram.”
“Godspeed, young man. The Crown won’t forget your service.”
Gordon took up his coat and stick, replacing his hat as he stepped out into the foggy London afternoon. People bustled past, talking about the latest pie shop down the street or the price of this or that commodity.
Gordon paid them no heed as he marched towards Paddington. He had a life, and perhaps an entire empire, to save.
Read more about the Boxer Rebellion here.