Love in the Land of Dragons

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 20 (v.1) - Chapter Twenty

Submitted: April 12, 2016

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Submitted: April 12, 2016



Chapter Twenty


It was Thursday; just before dawn.

As he sat behind his desk in the study; the invitation to the Ambassador's Annual Ball held tenderly in his hands, Father John Polsky took a contemplative draw from his pipe then exhaled. Like some tenuous angelic halo, the pipe smoke leisurely formed a ring above his head. On the other side of the desk sat Elizabeth Ander.

"With your permission, I'd like to attend," Elizabeth tentavively requested.

The furrowed brow etched upon Polsky's forehead revealed a deep concern, as he slid the invitation back across the desk to Elizabeth.

"Canton is a dangerous place for a young woman to be on her own," he began, as he took his thumb and dashed out the tobacco glow in the bowl of the pipe.

Elizabeth wanted to remind the good Father that the area surrounding the Sanctuary seemed pretty dangerous for a young woman as well, considering her own experiences and that of the late Alice Riley, but she kept silent.

"I won't be on my own."

"Oh?" Polsky frowned even deeper.

"I've asked Gracie to accompany me."

"I see. So how are you going to travel to Canton?"

"In Gracie's aero plane."

Polsky gasped, "You're flying?!"

"Gracie said it would save time."

Polsky took a deep breath in frustration.

"As you already know, the situation in China is unstable and I'm afraid that..."

"...Oh for God's sake, Father Johnny!"

The words echoed loudly throughout the study, interrupting Polsky's train of thought and quickly bringing both his and Elizabeth's attention towards the study entrance, whereupon stood Grace Seton with her hands placed firmly upon her hips.

"Lizzie knows the score and with all the big wigs in attendance, security at that Ball will be tighter than a sardine can with its key broken off."

Grace then addressed Elizabeth.

"I've already stashed our overnight cases aboard the Canary and I'm heading out to get that old bird cranking."

Elizabeth nodded.

"Apparently this decision has already been made," Polsky sighed in resignation.

"Don't worry, Father Johnny," Grace smiled, as she walked over and affectionately kissed the top of Polsky's head, "I'll bring your young missionary back safe and sound. And when all is said and done, she'll be a changed woman."

Polsky could only shrug, "That's what I'm afraid of. Besides, far be it from me to stand in the way of two such headstrong women. So all I can say is: go with God."

"Thank you, Father," Elizabeth smiled, as she rose to follow Grace out the door.

"And Grace!!" Polsky called after, "Please try to keep Elizabeth and yourself out of trouble."

"I can't make any promises!" came Grace's good natured reply.

"And that concerns me as well," Polsky mumbled to himself.

Outside, it was the beginings of a beautiful day. The sun had just risen above the eastern mountains, basking the valley in a luster of light. Elizabeth noted how the morning sunlight gave the Canary a luxurious glow. She hoped it was a good omen.

Grace had already donned her goggles and soft leather helmet, set the switch, and went around to the front of the plane to hand crank the propeller in order to jumpstart the engine. After a couple of cranks, the Airco DH-4's 375 horsepower engine roared to life.

Grace quickly came back around and motioned for Elizabeth to approach, as she reached into her leather flying jacket to produce an identical soft leather helmet and goggles for Elizabeth to put on, which Elizabeth dutifully did.

"In the front you'll find a rubber tube that runs back to the rear cockpit," Grace shouted above the engine din, "we can use that to talk to each other. So you ready, Lizzie?"

Elizabeth nervously nodded, as Grace helped her into the front cockpit. Grace then jumped into the back cockpit and throttled up the engine. The backwash from the propeller created clouds of dust, as the biplane lurched forward.

Halfway down the runway, the Canary elegantly lifted into the air. Grace banked left and Elizabeth glanced back to the rapidly receding Sanctuary house and noticed Father Polsky had come out to wave goodbye.

Elizabeth returned his wave, then settled back into her seat. She could feel the cold morning air rush back to brush her face, as the stalwart vibrations from the plane's engine made her teeth involuntarily chatter. And, as she had promised, Grace kept the Canary at tree top level. So low that the landing gear brushed the tops of the trees. The sounds of breaking limbs startled Elizabeth, so she used the rubber tube to call back to Grace.

"I think we just clipped some tree tops."

"I'll take her up a bit higher," Grace cordially replied, as she throttled up the engine and pulled back on the joystick.

Suddenly, Elizabeth felt the Canary nose up. She held on for dear life, as the plane quickly ascended a thousand feet before leveling off.

"That better?" Grace called forward and Elizabeth gave a thumbs up, although she felt she may have left part of her stomach at tree level.

As they headed west towards Canton, Elizabeth marveled at how beautiful the valley looked from on high. The rice paddies formed checkerboard patterns, as sunlight glistened off the small streams and tributaries that snaked about. Canton was an hour away, as the crow flew, and as they got closer, the dust laden roadways that spider webbed into the city became littered with the traffic of commerce.

Grace banked left and flew south of Canton, where the airfield was located. As they rapidly approached, she lined up the Canary with the landing strip just ahead.

"Hang on, Lizzie. The landing might be a bit rough. This strip is basically an unplowed field."

Elizabeth grabbed onto the underside of the seat, as the yellow biplane rumbled over the field's threshhold, then gently touched down. But as Grace started to throttle down, the right landing gear hit a large rock. The Canary's right side flipped up and Elizabeth could see the tip of the lower left wing come within inches of the ground. If the wing made contact they would cartwheel down the airstrip, leaving parts of the plane, as well as parts of themselves, scattered along the way.

However, Grace immediately used the flap spoilers to disrupt the air flow over the right wings, which allowed the Canary to safely set down before she cut the engine and brought the plane to a gentle stop.

"Sorry about that little bump in the road," Grace stated, "you all right, Lizzie?"

"I'm fine, but you may have to help pry my hands off the sides of this seat."

They both laughed, as they hopped down off the plane. Grace opened the small carrier hatch on the fuselage to retrieve the overnight cases. Meanwhile, Elizabeth was about to ask how they were going to get into town, when a stick skinny young boy, in ragged clothes, came running up with a rickshaw in tow.

"Pretty ladies need ride?"

"How much?" Grace asked.

"Where go?"

"Canton Hotel," Grace answered.

The boy frowned in thought before stating, "Eight Yuan."

Grace reached into her pants pocket to retrieve some coins.

"I'll give you three."

The boy shook his head no.

"You have luggage. Eight Yuan."

"Oh come on," Grace countered, "just two small cases."

"Eight Yuan," the boy stubbornly repeated.

"Sorry fella, too much," Grace replied, as she handed Elizabeth her case, "c'mon Lizzie, we're walking."

"Six Yuan!" The boy counter offered.

"It's a beautiful day for a walk, isn't it?" Grace noted, as she ignored the boy and began to walk with Elizabeth close behind.

"Gracie," Elizabeth whispered, "it's a long walk to the hotel, isn't it?"

Grace nodded.

"Well, I've got some coins. Let's accept his offer."

Grace smiled, "He'd be insulted if I didn't dicker over price. It's their way here. Just give him some time."

As they walked another twenty feet the boy called out, "Five Yuan! Final offer!"

"Deal!" Grace called back, as the boy quickly brought over the rickshaw. Grace handed over the coins, as she and Elizabeth climbed aboard and sped off as fast as the boy could run, which Elizabeth discovered was pretty fast.

As they entered the outskirts of Canton, the hustle and bustle of the city was on full display. The cobblstone streets were lined with carts displaying everything from fruit to clothing. Vendors called out to the passing pedestrians, imploring them to stop and inspect what wares they offered.

As they approached the docks, Elizabeth saw what seemed like hundreds of small boats out on the water. There were so many, one could seemingly step from boat to boat and easily make it across to the other side.

"Why so many boats?"

"Many of the poor can only afford to live on a boat," Grace explained, "they fish, then try to sell their catch on the dock. Most of them were born on a boat and have lived their entire lives over water."

"How sad," Elizabeth noted.

"Welcome to Canton," Grace cynically said.

Suddenly, a shot rang out.

Immediately, the crowd scattered, as a young woman fishing off the dock collapsed. Blood swiftly pooled from under her head. 

"Gracie!" Elizabeth gasped, "What's going on?"

"Rebels infiltrate the city and use snipers to create havoc," Grace explained, but just as she started to tell their young rickshaw driver to turn down a side ally, the boy panicked, abandoned the rickshaw, and disappeared into the crowd.

"I should of held out for a better price," Grace sarcastically said, as she and Elizabeth found themsleves suddenly stranded in the middle of a street under fire.

And when a bullet ricocheted off the cobblestone just a few feet in front of them, Elizabeth turned to Grace and asked, in as calm of a voice as she could muster, "What do we do now, Gracie?"

And Grace simply replied, "We run!"


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