This is the third story in a series that begins with "Montana Journey". Comments welcome.
The well-dressed couple spoke with the clerk behind the Fairview Hotels reception desk. He pointed to a young man and woman sitting together on a sofa in the hotels lobby. Annie Thomas watched as they walked toward her. The familiar face of the tall man pierced the numbness that had swallowed her since receiving the telegram a week ago.
"Theres no mistaking thats Jesses father. Shes the spitting image of him." Ed Kearney said.
Mr. And Mrs. Clifford Tyson stopped in front of them. Annie wondered if her eyes were as red, if her face was as equally lined with worry as the womans who stood before her.
Clifford Tyson spoke first. "Miss Thomas, Mr. Kearney, Im Clifford Tyson and this is my wife Gertrude." He stared at Annie knowing what she would ask. "I received a cable from China this morning. Jesse hasnt been found and they still dont know what happened."
No hint of emotion flickered across the young womans face as she heard the news. The tall man continued. "Ive reserved a table in the dining room. We can eat dinner and discuss your trip."
As they sat at their table, Clifford stared at the young blonde. So this was Annie Thomas. She was a pretty girl with green eyes that could sweep a man off his feet. But now all he saw in her eyes was pain. The same pain he saw in his own eyes every time he looked in a mirror since receiving the telephone call from John Longley, the Director of the Museum of Natural History.
The director said there was a problem concerning Jesse and he needed to come immediately to his office at the museum. He hung up the telephone without giving Clifford a chance to ask any questions. Clifford tried to keep his concern from his wife. He only told her he was going out and would be back shortly.
A secretary led Clifford into the office. Director Longley was standing. "Please sit down." He guided the worried man to a leather covered chair. "Would you like a whiskey?"
"Enough of the pleasantries John. Whats happened to my daughter?"
The director sat down in a chair next to his and paused for a moment as he stared at a cable he held in his hands. He looked up. "She disappeared in Mongolia about ten days ago."
"My God! What do you mean she disappeared?"
"The expedition was at a place called the Burning Hills in southern Mongolia. She went with one of the expeditions guides to check on a report of a deposit of fossils. They never returned. The rest of the expedition searched for days for them but didnt find a trace of her. The Chinese army is continuing the search and a large reward has been offered for any information. Im sorry to have to give you this unfortunate news. The museum will do what ever is necessary to find Jesse."
All Clifford could do was sit there numbly, nodding his head. He felt an enormous emptiness as if he somehow was now hollow inside. Was it his fault she was gone? His very generous donation to the museum had ensured Jesses invitation to join the expedition. Rod wrote she was anxious to go overseas. He had seen the expedition as an opportunity to make up for being less than a sterling father to her.
"How could this happen? I never really thought about it being dangerous for her." Clifford asked.
"Theres always risk in any expedition. You couldnt ask for a better expedition leader than Mark Chapman. Hes one of the museums most experienced expedition leaders and has been into the country several times. But Mongolia is a wild place that few westerners have visited. I know that Mark took every precaution. But in a country like that you can never be sure theres not going to be trouble. Im receiving daily cables from China. Ill let you know as soon as theres any more information," John replied.
"What can I do?" Clifford asked.
"Be patient and have faith."
They stood up and shook hands.
"Well find her." The director said.
Clifford returned home and told Gertrude what had happened. He had to telephone for a doctor when she collapsed after hearing the news. Then he drafted a telegram to Annie Thomas. Jesse mentioned her in the infrequent letters she sent her parents in New York City. Most of what he knew about Jesse during the last several years after she returned to Montana came from Rod. His brother seemed to say in his letters that Jesse and Annie were in some sort of Boston marriage. Clifford assumed enough about their relationship to know Annie needed to be informed immediately about Jesses disappearance.
Annie responded within a day to his telegram. She was going to travel to Mongolia to search for Jesse. He could hardly believe what he read. It was as simple as that for the young woman. She would go to Mongolia and find Jesse.
Clifford wired back that he would fund the trip and make arrangements for assistance from the American Legation in Peking. Passage was booked for her and a companion, Ed Kearney, on the "Empress of the India" sailing from Vancouver to Shanghai. He purchased train tickets for himself and Gertrude to Vancouver, and arranged to meet with Annie and Ed at the Fairview Hotel the day before they sailed for China.
"Miss Thomas, whats a young girl like you think she can do in Mongolia?" Clifford asked gently.
With a steady gaze and a firm voice she replied. "Ill tell you what I cant do. I cant spend the rest of my life wondering if Jesse is still alive, preying every night that shell walk through the door one day."
Clifford nodded. Rod had written the young blonde had a formidable character. "The Secretary of State is a personal friend of ours. He has ordered the American Legation in Peking to give you whatever assistance you need. Ive arranged for several thousand dollars to be deposited in the Liverpool Merchants Bank in Peking for your use. Youll be carrying diplomatic papers from the Secretary, and the trunks with your guns and ammunition will be traveling under diplomatic seal."
They talked for another hour as Clifford explained the travel arrangements that had been made. They stood up after finishing cups of coffee to return to their rooms in the Fairview.
Mrs. Tyson who had remained quiet throughout the meal finally spoke. "Clifford and I have a lot of regrets about the kind of parents we were to Jesse. Miss Thomas, I can only hope that our daughter occasionally spoke fondly of us to you. I want you to know how much we love her." Her eyes filled with tears as she continued. "Well spend any amount of money; do anything necessary to bring her back home."
The tall woman never spoke much about her parents to Annie. Occasional letters were exchanged but that was about the extent of their contact as far as the young blonde knew. Annie sensed they werent close and rarely asked Jesse about them.
She waited for Mrs. Tyson to wipe her eyes before replying. "You can tell Jesse how much you love her when she comes home."
Ed walked Annie to her room. The warmth, the kindness that once flashed from her smile and sparkled in her eyes was gone. Replaced by the cold resolve of a soldier about to go into battle.
When the young blonde asked him to go to Mongolia with her, he didnt hesitate a second to say yes. Jesse was a friend of his too. What red-blooded young man would pass up the opportunity for an adventure in a land most Americans thought must be the most distant place on earth? And maybe, just maybe if they could find out what happened to Jesse and Annie knew she was never coming home, thered be a chance for him to be more than a friend.
"See you tomorrow morning." He said as she stepped into her room.
Annie didnt prepare for bed but instead sat in a chair in the darkness of the room. She didnt sleep much anymore at night. Too many plans, too many thoughts swirled through her head. In the lonely hours of the early morning the young woman thought of her lover. Annie remembered saying goodbye to Jesse at the Missoula train station on a raw, bitterly cold March morning. The sky was gunmetal grey and an icy rain pelted them. They didnt kiss goodbye on the platform. Neither of them was bold enough for that.
They talked about Annie trying to join the expedition to Mongolia. But that wasnt possible. Her father in Denver was sick and her mother needed help nursing him. Jesse offered not to go but Annie knew how excited the tall woman was about the expedition and the opportunities it would open up for her. She convinced Jesse to go without her knowing her partner would be gone for seven months. Then seven months seemed like forever.
In April, Annie received her first letter from China. More letters followed filled with vivid descriptions of the country. Jesse met the expedition in Peking and wrote she seemed to be accepted by her fellow explorers. They were excited about exploring the unknown lands of Mongolia in search of dinosaur fossils, and were working night and day getting ready to leave. The last letter came in June from Kalgan, the gateway into Mongolia. Jesse wrote she would try to send letters out via camel caravans. She had been in Mongolia about two months when she disappeared.
Mr. And Mrs. Clifford Tyson sat in chairs in their suite and drank expensive brandy from small tumblers. The brandy helped them sleep.
"Do you think were doing the right thing? Im afraid were sending those two young people to their deaths." Clifford asked his wife.
"Annie will go with or without our help. Maybe it will be our money that will ensure their success."
Clifford swallowed his brandy and poured himself another tumbler. "What do you think about Annie?" He remembered how his wife fled back to New York City from Paris to escape the scandal of Jesses involvement with the notorious Elizabeth Spaulding. Gertrude went resolutely about pretending they no longer had a daughter. And he, the weak man he was, failed to challenge her. For years the only news they heard of her was gossip that traveled across the ocean from Paris. Then to their surprise Jesse returned to Montana where she became a very different woman according to Rod.
"I think Jesse was very lucky to have found her." She replied.
They met early in the morning in the hotel lobby. A motorcar and truck waited outside the hotel to transport the small group and luggage to Vancouver harbor where Annie and Ed would board the "Empress of India". After a short drive they arrived at the harbor. The masts of dozens of sailing ships tied to piers formed dense thickets. Black smoke poured from the funnels of steamships in the harbor. The Canadian Pacific pier was crowded with departing passengers and their families and friends, stevedores loading cargo and harried ticket agents and ships crew.
The "Empress of India" was a sleek white steamship that with her bowsprit looked more like a yacht than a passenger liner. A carved figurehead of Queen Victoria graced the bow. Masts stood fore and aft of the funnels. A Royal Mail Pennant fluttered from one of them. The red-checkered flag of the Canadian Pacific line hung from a pole on her bow.
A steward in a dress blue uniform greeted the group as they walked onto the ship. "Welcome aboard. May I see your tickets please?"
He took Annie and Eds tickets. "Please follow me to your state rooms. Theyre on the promenade deck." The steward looked at the Tysons. "Visitors will have to go ashore in 30 minutes. The ships whistle will let you know when its time to leave."
"The Empress is a beauty." Ed said as he followed the steward.
"Yes she is. Shes one of the fastest liners sailing the Pacific and will get you to Shanghai in 12 days. Here are your staterooms; your luggage will be delivered shortly." He smiled at the tip Clifford handed him and stood aside as they entered Annies stateroom.
"Most of the passengers on this trip are missionaries going to China. It should be a quiet voyage except for the hymn singing." The steward said before leaving.
The stateroom was large with both a sitting room and bedroom. It was comfortably furnished and had beds rather than bunks found in the other cabins. They talked until the ships whistle blew.
"Send us a cable when you get to Shanghai. Well pray for your safety and success." Clifford said.
Gertrude dabbed at her eyes with a hankie. "When you find Jesse, tell her how much we love her."
After exchanging hugs with the two young people, the Tysons left the stateroom. As they walked down the gangway, his wife spoke. "I dont think Ill be able to bear it if they dont come back."
Clifford took her by the arm. "Have faith my darling, have faith in them."
Annie and Ed joined the other passengers lining the ships railing to wave goodbye to family and friends standing on the pier. They stood at the railing looking toward the city as the Empress sailed out of the harbor.
Annie turned to Ed. "Im going to my cabin. Ill see you later."
"Oh, Annie. Its a gorgeous day. Stay out here with me and enjoy the sights. The steward said the scenery in the passage to the ocean is breathtaking." He replied.
"Therell be plenty of time to enjoy the voyage." The young blonde walked to her stateroom. She spent the rest of the day carefully reading a book on Mongolia she bought in Vancouver. An English army officer, who traveled on horseback and camel across the country in 1884, wrote the book. She tried to imagine the wild country and people described by the Englishman.
Early in the evening a persistent knocking at the cabin door pulled the young woman away from her book. She opened the door; it was Ed.
"Its time for dinner." He said.
"I was planning to have a steward bring dinner here." She replied.
"Youve spent the whole day in your cabin. Come to dinner with me and meet some of the other passengers. Theyre a swell group and most of them are our age."
Annie could see Ed wasnt going to leave the cabin door without her. "Lets go to dinner."
They walked to the dining saloon, a large, elaborately decorated room. The buzz of conversation and the clatter of plates and silverware filled the room. Waiters in white jackets scurried between the kitchen and tables.
Ed waved at two women and a man sitting at a table. "Lets eat with them."
The young man guided her to the table. "This is Annie Thomas."
The man sitting at the table stood up. "Glad to meet you. Im James Turner and this is my wife, Sally."
"Theyre both doctors on their way to work at the Christian Alliance Hospital in Shanghai." Ed added. He looked at the other woman. "This is Emily Compton. Shes going to teach at a girls boarding school in Shanghai."
Emily smiled at Annie and Ed as they sat down. The young womans smile was warm and honest, her eyes welcoming. She was young and pretty but not pretty enough to be vain and self-centered. "Eds been telling us about how you two are going to Mongolia to search for your friend. I cant tell you how much I admire your courage."
Annie nodded and stared at the menu.
Emily continued. "She must be some kind of special friend for you to travel half-way around the world to find her."
Annie looked up. "My friend means everything to me."
The teacher stared back puzzled and then blushed. "Ill pray that you find your friend and return home safely."
"Here comes the waiter." Ed said. "Are we ready to order?"
Each following day Annie spent less time in her cabin as the Empress steamed westward across the Pacific. During the day she strolled the decks with Emily and Ed enjoying the unusually good weather. They played cards, read books while lounging in deckchairs, and sat through lectures on Chinese culture and language. After dinner they joined other passengers in the ships first class lounge to drink coffee and chat. It was a comfortable room with oak paneled walls, full bookcases and wood floors covered with oriental rugs. Emily, Ed and Annie sat in plush armchairs and enjoyed the fire in the marble fireplace.
"Emily, I havent asked you why you want to work in China." Ed said.
"Ever since I was a child I wanted to see the world. I dont know where the gypsy in me comes from. My mother and father never left Iowa. Theyre happy to spend their lives on the farm. My grandfather only left the state to fight in the Civil War. I was an instructor at a womans college in Des Moines when I saw the notice for a teacher in Shanghai. I didnt hesitate a second to apply for the position."
The young people continued to talk until Ed stood up. "Ladies, theyre showing a movie on the promenade deck. Can I escort you there?"
They linked arms and walked to join the other passengers watching outlaws on horseback gallop across a bed sheet hanging on the deck.
After her friends returned to their cabins for the night, Annie would stand alone at the bow of the ship. She liked the feel of the cold night air biting into her face as she stared at the star filled sky as vast as the dark sea the ship sailed through. While the passengers slept the young woman thought of Jesse and hoped somehow she knew Annie was coming.
Balmy breezes and circling seabirds signaled the Empress was rapidly approaching the Hawaiian Islands and a port call at Honolulu. A day before their scheduled arrival, Emily and Annie stood on the stern of the ship watching Ed and other passengers fire shotguns at clay pigeons launched over the ocean by a crewman.
Emily clapped as Ed blasted pigeons out of the sky. "Oh Annie, what cant Ed do?"
Annie smiled and wondered if Emily and Eds interest in each other might be more than friendship. She liked Emily and admired the young teachers excitement about her new life in China. Wouldnt it be just like Ed to fall for a girl who would be living halfway across the world from him? Poor Ed, Annie thought. Why couldnt he be more practical when it came to affairs of the heart?
Another passenger, a banker bound for Shanghai, shot next to Ed. A handsome, wealthy man, Mr. George Dumont was prone to give his opinion when it wasnt asked for. "Ed, hold the stock tighter against your shoulder. It will give you more control over your shotgun."
Ed looked at the banker. He was tired of his advice, tired of his pompous manner and tired of hearing about the gold cups he had won in shooting competitions. Then a sudden idea brought a smile to the young mans face. "Say would you be interested in a little friendly competition?"
"Of course!" Mr. Dumont replied.
"How about the best of 20 pigeons? Loser donates $100 to the Christian Alliance Hospital in Shanghai?"
"The Myers will appreciate your donation Ed." The banker replied smugly.
Ed turned to Annie. "Pick your shotgun."
Annie and Emily stared at the young man. "What?" Annie asked.
"I want you to shoot instead of me." He replied.
"You must be joking Ed. It would be absolutely absurd for me to shoot against a woman." Mr. Dumont sputtered.
Surprise disappeared from Annies face. She walked to the rack that held the shotguns and selected a weapon. A murmur rippled through the small group watching the shooting.
"You wouldnt deny me the chance to participate in this contest?"
"As you like. Im not one to deny a lady her request. You do know how to fire a shotgun?"
"Yes I do. Mr. Dumont, you can fire first."
"Pull." He shouted. The pigeon flew over the water. The banker hit it. With a smile he turned to Annie. "Your turn."
"Emily, could I borrow your mirror?"
"Please give me the mirror you have in your purse."
With a puzzled look Emily took the mirror from her purse and handed it to Annie. "Here it is."
With her back to the stern and the shotgun resting on her shoulder, Annie peered intently into the mirror. "Pull!"
The pigeon disintegrated into the water. The passengers watching the contest stared at Annie with mouths hanging open and eyes wide with surprise.
"Your turn." Annie said with a smile.
The contest ended quickly with Annie winning after hitting all twenty pigeons. As the onlookers clapped, the banker tipped his hat to her. "My congratulations Miss Thomas on your victory. I would have never guessed you were a performer." He turned and walked away his irritation evident to all.
Ed started after him but Annie grabbed the young man by the arm. "Let him be. Who cares what a fool says."
"Why that pompous bag of wind!" Emily said as she watched the banker leave. "He cant bear the thought of you beating the stuffing out of him. Annie, where did you learn to shoot like that?"
"Oh, it just came naturally." The young blonde replied.
The next day the three young people went ashore at Honolulu during the Empresss nine-hour port call there. As they walked down the gangplank, a warship sailed by on its way the Pearl Harbor Naval Base. The day included a tour of Iolani Palace, once the home of Hawaiis monarchs and now the capitol of the territory of Hawaii, and the Bishop Museum with its collections of Polynesia art. Afternoon found them on the verandah of the Moana Hotel enjoying tea. White gloved attendants served delicious pastries and finger sandwiches as they talked and watched swimmers splashing in the water off Waikiki beach.
"I was really surprised when I saw Iolani Palace. I never expected it to look like a building you could see in Chicago." Emily said as she sipped her tea.
"What did you expect? A big, thatched hut with a cannibal pot out front?" Ed replied.
"Oh Ed, I just didnt expect Honolulu to be so American." Emily said. "Ive decided I love the tropics. If I hadnt signed a contract to teach in Shanghai, Id jump ship right here in Hawaii."
"I can just see you living in a shack on the beach and catching your supper in the ocean every night."
"And I could take up painting like Paul Gaugin." The teacher replied
"Thanks to the missionaries in Hawaii your native models would be dressed unlike Mr. Gaugins." Ed said with a smile.
Emily laughed. "If youll excuse for me for a minute I want to buy some postcards at the front desk before we leave."
Ed smiled at her and stood up as she left the table.
"Well?" Annie asked.
"I think shes a very special girl." Ed replied with a grin.
"Oh Ed you would have to go and get sweet on a girl wholl be living in China. Once we get back to Montana youll have to dig to China to visit her."
"Im not planning to pick up a shovel. Why soon Ill be able to fly across the ocean in one of those new aero planes and visit her whenever I like."
"Dont say that too loud. People will think youre crazy." The young woman laughed.
"Finish your tea Annie and then well join her. We need to be heading back to the ship."
Annie stood on the deck in the grey light of dawn as the "Empress of India" dropped anchor where the muddy water of the Yangtze River flowed into the China Sea. Though early in the morning it was hot and humid. Freighters, passenger liners, barges, junks and small fishing boats surrounded the Empress.
A steward stood beside her. "Passengers and their luggage will be transferred to launches that will take you up the Huangpu River to the custom jetty in Shanghai. The trip will take about three hours."
Within an hour lines of passengers helped by stewards climbed down ladders to bobbing launches tied to the Empress. They sweated in the humid morning heat and gratefully took fans the stewards handed them. A fog hanging over the water slowly cleared as Ed and Annies launch sailed upriver. Red brick buildings sat on the green banks of the river. A large fort surrounded by thick mud walls suddenly appeared.
"Thats Woosung Fort, an old Chinese fort built to protect Shanghai. It didnt stop the English army in 1842, during the Opium Wars." A passenger standing nearby told them.
"Opium Wars?" Annie asked.
"The war was fought to open China up to unimpeded English trade. A large part of that trade was opium shipped into China from India. The peace treaty after the English victory opened Shanghai to western settlement." The passenger replied.
Docks, shipyards and warehouses crowded the riverbanks as they got nearer to Shanghai. Sampans linked to the shore by planks swarmed with families. The launch rounded a bend and entered the citys harbor where the brown, slow moving river was half mile wide. They sailed by a long line of warships at anchor flying the flags of a dozen nations. Hundreds of boats and ships of all sizes and descriptions filled the harbor.
At the customs jetty, an employee of the American consulate in Shanghai waited for Annie and Ed. "Are you Miss Thomas and Mr. Kearney?" He asked as they stepped off the launch.
"Yes." Annie replied.
"Welcome to Shanghai. Im Michael Dobbins. I'm with the American consulate in Shanghai. Ive been sent to assist you. I hope your voyage was uneventful."
"The weather was great." Ed replied.
"Glad to hear that. Please come with me. You dont have to go through the customs shed. Bring whatever youll need for tonight. Porters will take the rest of your luggage to the train station for tomorrows trip. Youll be staying at the Palace Hotel. Its a very nice hotel and has an excellent restaurant. Theres also an outdoor garden on its roof with a beautiful view of the city at night. Its only a block from here. If you dont mind, we can walk there.
Ed turned to Emily who was just behind them. "Do you want me to escort you to your school?"
"No, you dont have to do that. The school principle will be meeting me when I get through customs."
"Can you meet us for dinner tonight at the Palace Hotel?" Ed asked.
"I sure can. One of the passengers told me the school is not far from here. He said theres a tram that goes right by it. Come pick me up at dinner time."
As Emily walked with the rest of the ships passengers into the customs shed, Ed and Annie followed the consulate employee out onto the Bund. The Bund was a mile long stretch of waterfront flanked by a line of imposing European style buildings of red brick, granite and marble. Western banks, trading houses, clubs, consulates and hotels lined the Bund. The street was filled with bare-chested Chinese men pulling and pushing rickshaws and wheelbarrows with large loads, carts, carriages, electric trams and an occasional motor vehicle. Turbaned Sikhs in police uniforms directed traffic. Men who appeared to have just stepped out of offices, sailors looking for amusements, vendors shouting for customers, and beggars carrying bowls crowded the walkway.
The consulate employee took them into the hotels lobby and waited while they registered. "Ill meet you here tomorrow morning at eight for the trip to the train station. Ill have rickshaws waiting. Is there any thing else I can do for you?"
"Nothing I can think of right now." Ed replied.
"Ive arranged for a guide to meet you this afternoon if youd like to see some of the local sights. Mr. Soong teaches English at the citys YMCA and went to college in Michigan. There isnt anything he doesnt know about Shanghai. Hell meet you in the lobby at two. Heres my card. Dont hesitate to telephone me at the consulate if you need anything."
After lunch in the hotels restaurant, Annie and Ed decided to visit the nearby Public Gardens before meeting their guide for the afternoon. They stopped at the entrance into the gardens and stared at a sign that said, "No dogs. No Foreigners."
"Whats that mean?" Annie asked. "Does that mean we cant go in?"
A large American dressed in a business suit stopped beside them. "Is there a problem folks?"
"Can we go into the gardens?" Annie asked,
"Of course you can. You must be new to Shanghai. Its Chinese who cant enter the gardens unless theyre dressed like us and with a westerner."
"We just arrived this morning. How can Chinese be foreigners in their own country?" She said.
"Youre in the International Settlement." He answered patiently. "The Chinese dont have a say about what goes on here. The settlement is run by westerners and has its own laws. Enjoy the gardens." He tipped his hat and quickly walked away.
After admiring the well tended flowerbeds, lawns and greenhouses of the Public Gardens, the young couple walked down nearby Nanking Street, a crowded shopping district popular with Europeans. The shops were two-stories, and had upswept roofs and beautifully carved wood facades. Black and red banners hanging from the store fronts advertised ivory, pearls, carved jade and silk for sale.
They quickly finished their window shopping and returned to the hotel lobby to meet their guide. Mr. Soong looked like he was not long out of college. He was dressed in a black suit like a clerk and his hair was cut short.
"Miss Thomas, Mr. Kearney. Welcome to Shanghai. I have some suggestions about what you might like to see."
"Id want to visit the Chinese City and see the Yu Garden." Annie replied.
Annies request surprised Mr. Soong. "There are much better places to visit than the Chinese City. If youd like to go shopping, there are very nice stores nearby on Nanking Street."
"We were just there. I want to go to the Yu Garden. A friend of mine wrote me about it. I want to see what she saw."
The guide nodded. "We can take the tram there."
As the tram rolled down the tracks, the guide pointed out landmarks along the Bund. "Thats the Shanghai Club. It was built two years ago and is very exclusive. Men only. The club has a 100 foot bar that is supposedly the longest in the world."
A few minutes later they got off the tram. "Well enter the Chinese City through the North Gate. The City is the oldest inhabited section of Shanghai. In the 1800s western missionaries built their first churches here. A wall once surrounded the city to protect it from pirates. It was torn down last year and replaced with the road were standing on."
They walked into the Chinese City. It was crammed with low wood buildings with tile roofs. Narrow alleys snaked off the main streets. Shirtless merchants sat under banners announcing the stores goods and fanned their stomachs. Everyone and everything was jammed on the packed dirt sidewalks. Shouting vendors sold cheap trinkets from trays hanging around their necks, barbers cut hair, dentists pulled teeth with pliers, and men squatted over stoves and cooked in iron pans. Beggars without limbs and eyes, with crippled legs and open sores held out their hands. Laborers with bamboo poles balanced on their shoulders hurried by. Baskets attached to the poles carried everything from bricks to chickens.
Most of the passerbys were dressed in the blue cotton trousers and shirts of the poor or in the long cloth robes worn by the more affluent. Men wore their hair tied in a braid that hung down their backs. The few women on the street appeared to be servants on errands.
The crush of people, the smells and afternoon heat had Annies head spinning.
"Miss Thomas, are you alright?" The guide asked.
"Im fine. I was a little light headed for a moment." She replied. Ed held her by the arm.
"We can return to the hotel." Mr. Soong said.
"No. Lets go on to the Yu Garden."
Mr. Soong hailed rickshaws for them and they were soon at an entrance to the garden. They stood before a gate in a high wall.
"Ill have to admit Im uncomfortable riding in a rickshaw. Its hard for me to accept using a man like a draft animal." Ed said.
"Its a job for the poor that provides money so they might live. Better to pull a rickshaw than to starve." Their guide replied.
Mr. Soong paid an admission fee and they stepped through the gate into another world. Gone were the noise, commotion and smells of the street. Birds sang in large, old trees and flowers perfumed the air. Elegant bridges crossed fish filled ponds. Curving walls of white brick mounted by sculpted dragons divided the garden into sections.
"The Yu Garden is a classical Chinese garden began in the 1500s during the Ming Dynasty. To the Chinese, a skillful gardener combines the talents of a painter, architect and sculptor." Their guide explained.
They strolled on winding paths by the Hall of Serenity, the Tower for Beholding the Moon and explored the Pavilion for Viewing Frolicking Fish. They rested on a bench in front of the Ten Thousand Flower Pavilion in the shade of the broad crown of a giant old gingko tree.
"The garden is so beautiful and peaceful." Annie said. "I can see why Jesse liked it so much."
"We should be returning to the hotel." Mr. Soong said.
He led them out a nearby gate in the wall. Next to the gate stood a two-story teahouse with a graceful tile roof that swept upward. The five-sided teahouse sat in the middle of a rectangular pool. A zig zagging bridge led to and from the building.
"This is the Huxinting Teahouse. Many visitors think this teahouse is the model for the teahouse on willow-ware that is so popular with westerners. The bridge is called the "Bridge of Nine Turnings". Superstitious Chinese believe that evil spirits cant turn corners."
"Can we go inside for a cup of tea?" Annie asked.
"Oh no Miss Thomas. The teahouse is only for Chinese. Better you drink tea at your hotel." The guide replied.
As they walked to the rickshaws that waited for them, Ed saw a man lying nearby on the sidewalk. The crowd flowed around the body like water around a rock.
"Theres a man down over there." He took a step toward the body.
Mr. Soong grabbed his arm. "The Chinese authorities will take care of him".
"He needs help now!" Ed replied.
"Theres nothing you can do for him Mr. Kearney. Please come with me." The guide pulled the young man toward the rickshaws.
Annie and Ed looked back at the body as they stepped into the rickshaws. They said goodbye to Mr. Soong at the hotel after giving him a tip.
"Im going up to my room to bathe and change my clothes. Then Ill go get Emily. Well meet you in the restaurant." Ed said.
After dinner Emily, Annie and Ed sat and talked in the hotels rooftop garden. The night was warm and humid. A waiter in a sweat stained shirt brought the women lemonade and Ed a tall glass of beer. Piano music floated softly through the garden. Below them lights twinkled on boats traveling the river.
"Ive only been in China a day and I already feel overwhelmed. Everything is so different than anything Ive ever experienced. Therere crowds of people everywhere and most of them look desperately poor. I feel like going back to my room, crawling into bed and not getting out for week." Annie said.
Emily replied. "My principle told me everyone feels pretty much the same way as you do when they first get to China. Mrs. Adams said Id grow to love China like she does. Theres so much good we can do here."
After a short time Annie excused herself, and left Emily and Ed to finish the evening without her. The young couple watched as she walked away.
"Annie hardly ever smiles. It always seems like her mind is a hundred miles away. Was she always like that?" Emily asked.
"No. She was a different woman before Jesse disappeared. Always laughing and smiling. Annie would brighten room as soon as she came through the door." Ed replied.
"I really wish I could have met Jesse Tyson. She must have been a remarkable woman for Annie to be so devoted to her." The teacher said
"Yes she is very special. Annie is so sure well find Jesse that I dont know what shell do if we fail."
"She really thinks Jesse is still alive?"
The young man paused before he replied. "Annie talks like Jesse is alive. I think shed be grateful to just know what happened even if Jesse is dead. At least it would give her some sort of peace of mind."
"Well youre sure a grand friend to Annie."
Ed swallowed the last of the beer in his glass. "Annie needs me. Thats why Im here in China."
Emily stared at Ed and wondered if Jesse was his rival or friend. Maybe the missing woman was something of both. When she first met Annie and Ed she couldnt figure out why they werent married. The young couple seemed so suited for each other. Now she thought she finally understood. "Its late and time for me to return to the school." Emily said.
The next morning Michael Dobbins stood on the train stations crowded, noisy platform with Annie and Ed. "Its a long trip to Peking. Youll be arriving late tonight. Someone from the legation will meet you at the train station. Good luck to you." He shook hands with them as they climbed into the trains first class coach.
Annie stared out the window at the rich, green landscape that stretched along the train track. When the train stopped at stations crowds of vendors selling food and drink gathered beside the cars. At Nanking the train was loaded on a ferry for the trip across the Yangtze. It was hot in their compartment and the rocking of the train made the two young people drowsy. After a large meal in the dining car, Annie and Ed slept in their seats for most of the afternoon. It was dark when their train pulled into Pekings Railway Station.
As promised, an American from the legation greeted them when they left the train. He was a large man with a fleshy face. Several porters stood behind him. "Welcome to Peking. Im John Spence, the legations first secretary. I have rickshaws and a wagon for your luggage waiting outside. Youll be staying at the Hotel of Six Nations. Its not far from here. I know you must be tired from the trip. Get a good nights sleep. Tomorrow will be a very busy day. Ill send rickshaws for you after breakfast to bring you to the American legation."
"Have you heard anything more about Jesse?" Annie asked.
"No. Im sorry; we havent heard anything." The diplomat replied.
As they finished breakfast the next morning, a doorman came to their table to tell them their rickshaw was waiting. The driver stood beside the cart expressionless. The doorman helped them in, the driver picked up the traces and took off in a trot. Annie and Ed listened to the slap of his feet on the street and the sound of his breathing as he sucked air in. Though morning the streets were already crowded with vehicles pulled by men and horses. Laborers crowded around food stalls to buy buns and bowls of noodles.
The American Legation was located in a walled quarter reserved for the embassies of the western powers and Japan. The quarter sat against the Tartar Wall that surrounded the Inner City of Peking. Tienemen, the massive yellow-roofed Gate of Heavenly Peace, stood nearby. Inside the Legation Quarter it was quiet and green. The few Chinese on the street were servants. The legations sat along the long street that ran through the district. Each legation compound was surrounded by a wall. The compounds were entered through gates guarded by the countrys marines.
John Spence was waiting for them when they entered the courtyard of the American Legation. "Good morning. You found your hotel comfortable?" He asked.
The young couple nodded.
"Good. Please come with me." He led them into his office that was furnished with large, dark wood furniture. A globe stood in a corner and map of China filled one wall. "Please sit down." The diplomat gestured toward chairs. "Major Conrad, the minister, very much wanted to meet with you. He has a meeting though in Nanking that couldnt be cancelled. Would you like some coffee?"
"No thanks. We just had breakfast." Annie said.
"I met Miss Tyson when she joined the expedition here in Peking. The staff and I were very much impressed by her. You can imagine how dismayed we were when the news arrived she had disappeared in Mongolia. The legation has been receiving regular telegrams from Kalgan about her status. Unfortunately there hasnt been any good news.
Weve made arrangements through the Blair Trading Company in Kalgan for horses, supplies and a guide for you. The company is English and has been working the caravan trade in Mongolia for the last twenty years. No westerner knows the country better than Andrew Blair.
I admire your courage and determination in searching for your friend. In all honesty I have to say I dont think you have much of a chance of finding Miss Tyson. And you stand a very good chance of not returning.
The situation in Mongolia is very uncertain at this time. When the Manchu dynasty collapsed last year, Mongolia declared its independence from China. The Chinese army still controls the part of the country known as Inner Mongolia. Theres no real central government or police force in the rest of the country. Bandits are everywhere. One bandit chief in particular is as bad they come. Galdan leads a large band of cutthroats that has recently been reported to be in the area where Miss Tyson disappeared.
But the really dangerous character is Baron Von Sternman, a former general in the Russian Army. The Baron has declared himself the new Genghis Khan. Hes raised an army of outcasts and criminals- Russians, Chinese, Mongolians- thats been attacking caravans and settlements in southern Mongolia. The Baron is a madman. He and his men are savage killers with no sense of decency or compassion. The Chinese army is no match for him."
Ed looked at Annie.
The embassy employee continued. "The minister wanted to send Marines from the legations guard with you but the Chinese government refused us permission. We didnt request an escort from the Chinese army. Chinese soldiers could be as dangerous to you as any bandit. Andrew Blair didnt recommend recruiting guards from the Mongolians who hire out to protect the camel caravans. He said when theyre not guarding the caravans theyre usually robbing them. Im sorry but youre going to have to go it alone."
He stared at Annie and Ed, and saw no doubt or fear. The diplomat wondered if they were the two bravest people he had ever met. Or were they so ignorant of the dangers they didnt know enough to be afraid. He didnt let himself think about what could happen to a pretty young woman like Miss Thomas in the wilds of Mongolia. Well he had tried his best to warn them of the foolhardiness of their venture.
"We have a meeting in an hour with Dr. Chapman at his compound near the Forbidden City. He lives and works in a former Manchu palace. Its a splendid accommodation. The compound has everything he needs for his expeditions warehouses, laboratories, a darkroom Its not a long ride there."
Their rickshaws made slow progress through Peking. The way was blocked by a large crowd following a horse-drawn cart that carried three men naked to the waist with their arms bound tightly behind them. The mens shaved heads hung down against their chests. Chinese soldiers surrounded the cart.
"I wonder what thats all about?" Annie asked.
"I have no idea. Whatevers happening it doesnt look too good for those men." Ed replied.
The rickshaws turned off the road onto a dusty, narrow street that was no more than an alley, and turned right and left onto other winding alleyways. Every building was surrounded by a high wall. What was behind the walls was a mystery to them. All Annie and Ed could see were grey walls and the grey tile roofs that sat above the walls.
"I hope we dont have find our own way out of here. Id be lost forever." Ed said.
They stopped as a copper studded gate in high walls. The gate opened and the rickshaws entered a tree filled courtyard. A servant in a blue silk robe greeted them. "Dr. and Mrs. Chapman wait. Please follow."
They followed him to the back of the compound where the Chapmans living quarters were. The servant led them into a large room furnished with carved wood tables and cabinets, and silk upholstered chairs and sofas. Chinese vases and figurines sat on the tables. A handsome, middle-aged couple stood up from the sofa. Dr. Chapman was tall and tanned his face masculine and square jawed. His left arm was in a sling. His wife wore an elegant dress of the latest style in New York. She was almost as tall as her husband and very pretty. They looked very much like what American newspapers called a society couple.
Dr. Chapman was a celebrity scientist with a genius for both exploration and self-promotion. His professional life had been spent successfully exploring the remote areas of Asia for dinosaur fossils. The books he wrote and lectures he gave about his adventures in China and Mongolia had made him famous in America. He was the envy of every young boy who wanted to grow up to be an explorer like him. The Museum of Natural History received hundreds of letters from both men and women pleading to join his expeditions. The former farm boy from the Midwest was now one of the best known men in America.
The diplomat introduced them. "Dr. Chapman, this is Miss Annie Thomas and Mr. Ed Kearney."
"Welcome to our home. This is my wife Sarah. Please sit down." He said. "I hope you know I did everything in my power to find Jesse. Nothing like this has ever happened on one of my expeditions. We had been checking with passing caravans and there were no reports of bandits in the area."
Dr. Chapman paused and looked at his wife. "I wasnt happy when the museum told me a woman was joining the expedition. Director Longley made it clear to me her fathers money was paying for the expedition. If I wanted to go to Mongolia I better to get use to the fact Jesse was going to be an expedition member.
I was planning to have to nursemaid a spoiled society girl. She was nothing like I expected. It didnt take her long to win us all over. Everyone liked Jesse from the cooks to the other scientists. She was smart and not afraid to get her hands dirty." He looked at Annie. "Im sure you know all that."
"And because of her I got to go to Mongolia." Sarah Chapman added. "Mark would never let me join an expedition to Mongolia because he said it was too dangerous for a woman. He didnt want an unescorted woman on the expedition though so I got to go as Jesses chaperone. Im so sorry about Jesse."
"Please tell us what happened." Annie asked.
Dr. Chapman looked at a servant standing nearby who then poured him a cup of tea. "Would you like tea?" He asked his guests. He sipped from his cup and continued. "Her vanishing was damn strange business. She left camp with one of the guides, Altan. Jesse didnt tell me she was leaving. She told one of the cooks she was riding with Altan to a nearby site called the Burning Hills to check on a report of fossils and they would be back by supper. I didnt know she wasnt in camp until supper. When she didnt show up, we immediately rode out to look for her. There was no sign of them. It was too rocky for hoof prints. We searched until it got dark. We spent three days looking for her until reports of bandits forced us to leave.
I made the decision to end the expedition and return to Kalgan. On the way back we stopped every caravan we met and asked if they had heard anything about what might have happened. They knew nothing though we offered silver coins for any scrap of information about Jesse.
We notified the Chinese authorities in Kalgan and cabled the American Legation. I sent the rest of the expedition back to Peking while I waited there a week hoping to hear something. Then I returned to Peking."
"Were Jesse and the guide armed?" Annie asked.
"Yes, they both carried pistols and rifles. There was no evidence of a fight though. No blood or shell casings. Im sure we would have heard gunshots in the camp."
"So they were probably taken by surprise." Annie said.
"What can you tell us about Altan, the guide?" The young woman asked.
"I dont know much about the man. I hired him as a guide and translator in Kalgan just before we left for Mongolia. Altan came highly recommended by Andrew Blair. He spoke some English and Chinese, and knew the trade routes.
Jesse saved his life. First week out of Kalgan the expedition was ambushed by bandits. Altan was in the lead scouting and got thrown by his horse when the bullets started flying. He was a goner until Jesse charged up on her horse with her pistol blazing. She scattered the bandits. I think she might have winged one. After that Altan followed her like a dog."
"Did you look for graves?" Annie flinched at Eds question.
"Mongolians dont bury the dead." Dr. Chapman replied.
"John told us about Galdan and Baron Von Sternman. Could one of them be involved in Jesses disappearance?" The young woman asked.
"Its possible. Theres reports those two and their gangs might have been in the area when she was taken. Again I want to say we had no information when we set up camp they could be nearby."
"What do you think happened?" Ed asked.
"Well I know the earth didnt swallow them. Usually bandits kill their victims on the spot. When they carry someone off its for ransom. It doesnt make sense they would take Altan and Jesse, and not ask for a ransom. It had to have been bandits though. Theres no other explanation. What are your plans?"
"Well start looking where Jesse disappeared." Annie replied.
"I have maps for you." Dr. Chapman stood up, walked to a table and unrolled maps. "Theyre fairly primitive. That area of the country is not well explored."
They talked into the afternoon and then prepared to leave. Dr. Chapman and his wife led them back to the courtyard where their rickshaws were waiting. "Id go to Mongolia with you if I hadnt injured my arm playing polo."
Annie nodded. "Thanks for your help. One last question. We saw bound men in a cart on our way here. What was happening?"
"Oh, they were on their way to be executed in a square near the Temple of Heaven." Mark replied.
"Executed! For what?" Ed asked.
"Who knows? It could have been anything from murder to stealing a chicken. Huge crowds watch the executions. Five men had their heads chooped off at the execution I saw. The executioner walked down a line of kneeling men and lopped off their heads with a big sword like they were chickens."
"Really Mark, I dont think Annie and Ed want to hear about things like that." Mrs. Chapman said.
"Sorry. See you at the horse races on Sunday John?"
"Ill be there."
"Tell the Major we missed him at the Beachs cocktail party at the club last week." Dr. Chapman added.
The Chapmans waved as the rickshaws left their compound.
"I wish I was going with them to Mongolia." Dr. Chapman said as he watched the servants close the gate.
"Im glad youre not. Theres nothing you could do there except get yourself killed. We both know Jesse is dead." His wife replied.
"I keep asking myself if there was something I could have done to have prevented all this."
"Mark, stop blaming yourself. No one else does."
"I cant help thinking about what might have happened to Jesse."
"Whatever happened to that poor woman shes now beyond any suffering." Sarah said.
"Annie seems sure shes going to find Jesse."
Sarah smiled at her husband. "If you disappeared from an expedition, Id never stop looking for you."
Puzzled, the explorer stared at his wife. "Are you saying Annie and Jesse are ?"
His wife turned and walked back toward their quarters.
"Tired?" John asked as Ed and Annie climbed out of the rickshaws at the American Legation.
Annie looked at Ed and then replied. "We can keep going."
"Good. Weve been invited by the British minister and his wife to tea at the English legation. His Majestys government has been extremely helpful in making arrangements for your trip with Andrew Blair in Kalgan. We can walk to their compound."
Royal Marines waved them through the gate in the wall surrounding the compound and they walked to the entrance of the legation building. A Chinese butler opened the door and led them to a drawing room where the minister and his wife stood waiting for them.
"Sir Ashcroft, Lady Ashcroft," the American diplomat said. "Thank you for your invitation. Id like to introduce you to Mr. Ed Kearney and Miss Annie Thomas. The American government very much appreciates the assistance His Majestys government has provided for Mr. Kearney and Miss Thomass search for their friend."
Annie, her face frozen in surprise, stared at Stephen. Lady Ashcroft stared back equally surprised.
Ed leaned down and whispered to Annie, "Whats wrong? You look like youve seen a ghost."
"I have." Annie whispered back.
Stephen quickly regained her composure, stepped forward and took Annie by the arm. "Were grateful to have the opportunity to help these young people. Please join us for tea."
Ed noticed Annie stiffen at Stephens touch. He looked at the American diplomat and shook his head slightly to indicate he didnt know what had sparked the young blondes strange response to Lady Ashcroft.
The group sat down and Lady Ashcroft poured them tea. "Have some cake. I had cook make it especially for you."
They exchanged pleasantries and discussed the plans for the search in Mongolia. Sir Ashcroft stood up announcing it was time to leave. "Lady Ashcroft and I wish you the best of luck in your endeavor in Mongolia."
As servants collected the plates and cups, Stephen smiled at the young blonde. "Annie, the legation has a lovely garden. Please come with me. Id like to show it to you."
Annie avoided looking at the Englishwoman. "Thank-you Lady Ashcroft, some other time."
The other Americans stared in surprise at Annies rude refusal of Stephens offer.
"It wont take long." Stephen replied.
Annie stared coldly at her. "Alright Lady Ashcroft."
The two women walked out a French door into a garden filled with flowers. As soon as they were outside Annie said. "What brought you to Peking and your husband? One too many scandals in London?"
"Annie, Ill ignore that comment. Im as surprised as you are. I had no idea you were the young American woman who was coming to search for Jesse. What on earth is your involvement with that woman?"
"I love her." Annie replied.
"Hmm. Most women who thought they were in love with Jesse ended up wishing she would disappear forever so they would never have to see her face again."
The young blonde stared at Stephen. "You know Jesse?"
"I knew her and her companion Edith Spaulding during her Paris days. I was told she returned to America. I didnt know Jesse was in Peking until after she disappeared. I cant imagine her being a member of an expedition. The woman I remember was well, rather different. The only discoveries she was interested in were new women to bed. "
Annie fought to keep her anger from showing. "She changed. Jesse went to Montana and became a different woman. Thats where I met her, in Montana."
Stephen saw the question in Annies eyes, and laughed. " No, Jesse and I were never involved. We were too much alike to ever be bedmates."
"She was never like you." Annie replied.
The Englishwomans face reddened. "What on earth do you hope to accomplish in Mongolia? Jesse is dead. And in the very remote possibility she isnt dead she most certainly wishes she is."
"Goodbye Lady Ashcroft. Thanks for the hospitality". Annie turned and quickly walked back through the French doors.
Stephen watched as she left. The Englishwoman was not the type who looked back on life with any regrets. At least until now. She thought of all the women who had loved her. How many of them would cross an ocean and risk their lives in a wild and terrible land if she went missing? The answer came quickly to Stephen. Not one of them.
She walked back into the legation. The Americans were gone and her husband was reading a letter.
He looked up at her. "Mr. Kearney and Miss Thomas certainly are a nice young couple. Its a pity they probably wont survive their adventure. Do you know Miss Thomas? You both looked quite surprised when you saw each other."
"I knew her years ago when she was a performer in London."
"A performer? Who would have thought? She seems like such a proper young woman." Sir Ashcroft asked no further questions about the pretty American. He had little interest in his wifes past involvements. Except of course the ill-advised liaison with an actress friend of the Kings that forced Lady Ashcroft into exile in China.
"Bradley, who will be guiding them in Mongolia?"
"Ermit! They most certainly will die with that fool guiding them. Hes old enough to have ridden with Genghis Khan and hes a drunk as well. Telegraph Andrew Blair immediately and tell him David will be their guide."
"David! Thats impossible! Hes involved in crucial work for His Majestys government. He cant be spared to guide Americans on a fools errand."
"Enough Bradley! Have a telegram sent this very minute." Stephen ordered.
Sir Ashcroft glared at his wife as he quickly scribbled a note. He rang the bell for the butler and handed him the note. "Take this to the cable room," he ordered.
Stephen smiled at her husband. It was well known in English diplomatic circles that Peking was the only British legation in the world with two ministers. It was at her insistence that Sir Ashcroft had ordered Andrew Blair in Kalgan to assist the American Legation in the search for Jesse. She didnt understand why Bradley had been so reluctant to help. The minister had been surprisingly stubborn. Stephen finally had to put her foot down and order him to act. He mumbled something about the great game and the Russian threat, and then had the cables sent. And now to discover her former cowgirl was involved in the matter. Life was full of unexpected amusements Stephen thought to herself.
The Americans returned to their legation. "Before you go back to your hotel, I suggest we take a walk on the Tartar Wall behind the legation. Theres a ramp that accesses the wall. The views from there of the Imperial City are magnificent."
Ed and Annie nodded. "Id love to take a walk before we return to the hotel." The young woman replied.
They walked through a gate, and up the ramp onto the massive wall that was a 100 feet wide. Other westerners from the legations were strolling on the wall.
The American diplomat pointed out palaces and temples. "Peking is a city within cities. The third Ming emperor rebuilt Peking in the 1400s as concentric rectangles, each consisting of a walled enclosure. Peking proper was called the Inner City. The wall were on, the Tartar Wall surrounds the Inner City. Within the Inner City is the Imperial City that was the exclusive residence of the emperors court. Within the Imperial City is the Forbidden City. Here the emperor, the Son of Heaven, reigned from the Dragon Throne in the Hall of Supreme Authority. Only the emperor, his family and his most favored concubines, guards and eunuchs could enter the Forbidden City.
Last year the imperial family was forced from power and China became a democratic republic under the leadership of Dr. Sun Yat-sen. The last emperor, a six-year old, still lives in the Forbidden City with over 2000 eunuchs."
They looked at the grey tile roofs of the houses of the Inner City that crowded against the pink wall that surrounded the Imperial City. In the light of early evening the curved roofs looked like waves. Pigeons flew overhead in the red tinged sky.
The next morning Annie and Ed boarded the train to Kalgan. They talked as the train rolled north.
"Ill be glad when Im back on a horse. Ive had more than enough of trains and rickshaws." Annie said as she stared out the window.
"After weve been on the trail a week youll be wishing you were back in a hotel room with a comfortable bed and room service."
"Maybe. Americans in Peking live a pampered life polo, horseracing, cocktail parties." The young woman said.
"I lost count of all the servants I saw at Dr. Chapmans compound." Ed replied.
"John Spence told me even privates in the Marine Guard have servants to make their beds and shine their shoes."
"Where do you know Lady Ashcroft from?" The young man asked.
Annie replied without looking at Ed. "I met her in London when I was performing with the Wild West Show. It took me awhile to figure out what kind of person she was. I never thought Id see her again. And never wanted to. She knew Jesse during her Paris days."
"Maybe Lady Ashcroft is the reason the English have been so helpful."
Startled, Annie looked at Ed and then out the window again.
"Everyone seems determined to tell us how dangerous Mongolia is. They dont seem to have much confidence in us." The young blonde said.
"They just want to make sure we know what were getting into."
"Do you think Jesse is still alive?" She asked.
Ed tried to hide his surprise. This was the first time Annie had asked him that question. "We wont know until we find her."
"Are you as scared as I am?"
He stared at her and wondered if she meant scared of the dangers of Mongolia or what they might find there about Jesse.
"Yes." He replied.
Their train arrived in Kalgan in the early afternoon. Andrew Blair was waiting for them. He was a stout middle-aged man with a broad, flushed face. He wore a suit and fedora. Anyone seeing him would recognize him instantly as a merchant. And they might also misjudge his character. He was not a soft-handed tradesman. With a shrewd sense of business coupled with an iron will and a strong back, he had built a very successful trading business in Kalgan. The Englishman sent tea, tobacco and cloth to Russia on camel caravans that traveled trails a thousand years old. He purchased sheep, cattle, hides and wool from Mongolia and furs from Russia for sale in China.
The trader tried to hide his frustration as he watched as Annie and Ed walked toward him. He still didnt understand why Sir Ashcroft had ordered him to send David York as their guide. Did the Minister want the two Americans to find their missing friend? Andrew Blair sensed the hand of Lady Ashcroft in all of this. He had been told she knew the missing woman. So much was at stake, perhaps even the fate of British Empire in Central Asia. And yet that weak willed diplomat was willing to risk it all because he couldnt say no to his wife. And what kind of wife was she? Even in Kalgan the British community heard rumors of her unsavory passions. The sooner Sir Ashcroft banished that woman to Hong Kong or Singapore the better for England.
"Miss Thomas, Mr. Kearney, Im Andrew Blair. Welcome to Kalgan. My compound is located on the outskirts of the city in the western settlement. Its a short ride from here."
Kalgan was an ancient trading center; the starting point of uncountable numbers of caravans traveling trade routes to Russia. Some of the earliest constructed sections of the Great Wall skirted the city. Their carriage passed lines of camels wearing clanging bells and carrying heavy packs, and strings of horses and mules loaded with trade goods. Merchants stalls filled with any kind of merchandise that could be carried on a camel lined the dusty street. Buyers and sellers of a half dozen nationalities crowded around the stalls. The afternoon was blazing hot and a yellow haze of dust hung in the air. The acrid smell from the animal droppings that covered the road filled their noses.
The carriage entered the Blair Company compound through a gate in its surrounding wall. They climbed out and walked to an open door where a smiling Chinese servant in a long, blue gown stood. The servant bowed and then led them through a courtyard filled with flowers. They entered a large, cool room with oriental rugs on a polished wood floor. Silk tapestries hung from the walls.
Mrs. Edna Blair was waiting for them. "Welcome to our home. Though your stay with us is short, I hope youll find it comfortable. The servants will show you to your rooms and will bring your baggage to you."
As Annie and Ed turned to follow the servant, Andrew added, "Well have cocktails at six before dinner. David York, your guide, will join us."
After unpacking and sorting through their luggage, Annie and Ed joined the Blairs. They sat on chairs and sipped drinks as the trader discussed the plans for their trip.
"You dont have much time in Mongolia, six weeks at most before the weather turns. You have a very long, hard ride ahead of you to reach the Burning Hills where Miss Tyson disappeared. Ive arranged for you to meet up with a series of camel caravans that will bring you supplies and fresh horses. Youll be traveling to the Southern Gobi, one of the most remote and arid regions in Mongolia. Expect strong winds and savage dust storms that can strip the hide off a man. Days will be bloody hot and nights bitterly cold.
I dont have a better man than your guide, David York. A Mongolian family of herdsmen raised him. They found him abandoned along a caravan trail when he was just a toddler. David is probably Russian. No one will ever know for sure how he came to be by himself in the middle of nowhere. Most likely he was taken from a caravan by bandits and then abandoned.
When his Mongolian family died from the measles, the Methodist Mission in Kalgan learned of him and took him in. The Methodists gave him his name and made sure he didnt develop a liking for liquor and tobacco. David came to work for me seven years ago. Hes a superb horseman, fearless and smart to boot. David speaks Mongolian and English and a fair amount of Chinese and Russian."
Andrew turned to the servant standing behind the couch. "Get David."
The servant left the room and quickly returned with a slender young man not much taller or older than Annie. He was fine featured and clean-shaven with short-cropped hair. The young mans walk, the way he stood before them said he was not a soft man. David looked directly at the young couple. He didnt smile.
"Miss Tyson, Mr. Kearney, this is David York."
They shook hands.
"Will you be joining us for dinner?" Annie asked.
"No. It will take most of the night get the horses and gear ready for tomorrow."
"Can we help you?" She said.
David appeared surprised by the offer. "No thanks. I have all the help I need. Ill see you tomorrow morning." He stared for a moment at Annie, and then left.
A servant whispered in Mrs. Blairs ear. "Dinner is ready,"
After the servants cleared the last of the dinner dishes, Andrew excused himself and asked Ed to join him in his study. The trader poured the young man a glass of brandy and offered him a cigar.
"No thanks, I dont smoke."
"Ed, Im a frank man and must say I have little expectation that you will find any evidence of your friend. Whole caravans have disappeared without a trace in Mongolia. And youll provide a very tempting target to bandits. The Chinese army executes at least a dozen captured bandits here in Kalgan on an almost weekly basis. But their numbers continue to grow. The Chinese government cant kill them fast enough. Youve been told of Galdan."
"He and his cut throats have been reported to be where you plan to ride. Even heavily armed caravans are avoiding that area. The Chinese cavalry patrol that was sent to look for Miss Tyson has also gone missing."
"The American legation warned us of the dangers." Ed replied.
"Galdan hates Russians. Any white person to him is a Russian. Weve heard stories he skinned a Russian alive. Are you sure this is where you want to be taking Miss Thomas?"
"Im not taking her. Im traveling with her. Annie would go by herself if she had to."
Andrew looked at the young man. "You must love her very much."
"Oh no. Jesse is just a good friend of mine."
"No, I mean Miss Thomas."
Ed swallowed his brandy and then coolly returned Andrew Blairs stare. "This is excellent brandy."
After Ed and Annie returned to their rooms for the night, the trader met with David in the compounds stables.
"I dont understand why were helping the Americans look for Miss Tyson?" The guide said.
"Because Ive been directed by Minister Ashcroft to assist them. As I understand it, the missing womans family has connections to the highest levels of the American government."
"But after all thats been planned."
"Yes I know its frustrating. Ive given up trying to understand Sir Ashcroft."
"How long do you think the Americans will last after we leave Kalgan?" The young man asked.
"Miss Thomas and Mr. Kearney are much more formidable than I expected. They dont plan to turn back until they find their friend or the Gobi is covered in six feet of snow." Andrew replied.
"Ill take them through Ulaan Bulag. Maybe that will change their minds."
"I doubt it. Stay south of Khuder Am. Avoid caravans other than the ones scheduled to resupply you. Theyll be well-paid to keep quiet. Word cant get out that friends are looking for Miss Tyson. Ride Miss Thomas and Mr. Kearney in circles and try to keep them alive."
"What kind of man is Mr. Kearney to put Miss Thomas in so much danger?" David asked.
"Miss Thomas is the one who is doing the leading. Ill see you tomorrow morning."
Servants knocked on the doors of Annie and Eds rooms before dawn. They brought coffee and rolls, and basins of hot water to wash in. Ann packed her traveling clothes in a suitcase that would be left behind, and dressed in khaki trousers and shirt, and a broad brimmed hat. The young woman was glad to be rid of the skirts she had traveled in. She put an extra shirt and pair of socks in her saddlebags along with a few toiletries and several boxes of cartridges. The young woman buckled a holster with a pistol around her waist, put the saddlebags over her shoulder and picked up her Winchester rifle in its buckskin scabbard.
Annie left her room and met Ed in the hallway. He too wore khakis, a holster with his Army Colt .45 and carried a rifle in a scabbard. Together they walked into the compounds courtyard. They saw David working with company employees to finish packing the horses. Lanterns provided a dim light in the early morning darkness. There was a chill in the air.
Andrew Blair stood in the courtyard watching his employees as they worked. He turned to Annie and Ed. If he was surprised to see Annie in trousers with a pistol strapped to her hip and a rifle in her hand, he didnt show it.
The trader looked back at the string of small, wiry horses that stood patiently waiting for the trip to begin. "Those are your horses tied to the rail. They dont look like much but they carried the Mongolian hordes to the gates of Vienna. Those horses can graze on anything. You wont be riding on Mongolian saddles though. Our bodies werent made to ride on wood saddles. David will be carrying 300 silver Mexican pesos. Those silver coins will buy you what ever you could possibly need in Mongolia."
Ed and Annie shook hands with Andrew Blair. "Thanks for your help."
"Good luck," He said.
Annie and Ed walked to their horses, and tied their saddlebags and rifles to the saddles. David tugged on a rope around a canvas covered pack. "Thats it. Were ready to go."
They stepped up into their saddles. With David leading the way, the small group rode with their string of horses out of the compound toward the north gate of the Great Wall. The horses hooves clattered on the road made of paving stones. Except for a few dogs, they were alone on the empty road.
The riders quickly reached the massive wood gate that was still closed for the night. David handed a Chinese officer several coins. The officer barked an order and eight soldiers ran to the gate. They struggled to lift the heavy beam that kept it closed. The soldiers then slowly pushed the gate open.
Ed looked at Annie. "Lets go find Jesse."
They kicked their horses and rode through the Great Wall as the morning sun rose above the hills that surrounded Kalgan.
To Be Continued
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