Love in the Land of Dragons

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

Chapter 4 (v.1)

Submitted: August 07, 2014

Reads: 274

Comments: 20

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Submitted: August 07, 2014

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Chapter Four

 

 

Elizabeth Ander managed to keep pace with Miss Chang, as the feisty and petite old woman hastily headed through the front door and straight into the living room of the Sanctuary Mission House. As Chang continued up a wooden staircase with Elizabeth’s suitcase still in tow, Elizabeth noted that the living room was sparse, containing only an oak wood table and two bamboo reading chairs. The stairs gradually led into a narrow hallway and when Chang reached the middle of the hall, she abruptly stopped and turned to face Elizabeth.

“You!! Stay in here!!” Chang commanded, as she curtly handed the suitcase back and pointed to a room on the right. Elizabeth took the suitcase and tepidly entered. As she glanced around, Elizabeth quickly realized that if she had thought the living room downstairs was sparse, then compared to the room she now found herself in, it was downright chock-a-block.

Elizabeth noted the small cot that sat snuggled against the corner while a white spruce wood vanity chest, on top of which sat a small kerosene lamp next to a washbowl full of water, was the only other piece of furniture present. She also noticed that the room itself was not much larger than a crawlspace. In fact, she figured if she stretched her arms all the way out, she could easily touch the opposite walls simultaneously.

Oh, well, she thought, as she let out a deep sigh, I’m not here on some extravagant holiday.

She placed the suitcase on the cot and realized Chang was still standing in the hallway.

“Thank you, Miss Chang, for taking me to my quarters,” Elizabeth said, as she forced a smile in a struggle to remain polite with this obviously difficult woman.

Miss Chang, not surprisingly, failed to return Elizabeth’s smile. In fact, Elizabeth could see she had an even more acerbic look upon her face, as Chang began to address her once again.

“Hot bath!” she spat out, “In wash room! Down hall! On left!”

“Well, first,” Elizabeth replied, “I’d like to unpack a few items and then I’ll…”

“You take bath…. now!!” Chang loudly interrupted, “Much effort to heat and haul water from well and pour into tub just for you! Hot water not stay hot forever!!”

“Yes, I understand,” Elizabeth exasperatingly replied, “I’ll take a bath immediately.”

Then without changing her expression one iota, Chang turned on a dime and marched off. Elizabeth could easily hear her loud footsteps as she stomped back up the hall.

“Well,” Elizabeth frustratingly mumbled, “isn’t she a hoot?”

Elizabeth then closed the door and opened her suitcase. She took out a tan, lightly laced, full length cotton romper and placed it neatly across the cot. Next, she stepped over to the vanity and slid open the top shelf. To her relief, she found several different sized cloth towels. She took the largest towel she could find and placed it on top of the vanity, alongside her wide brimmed frilly sun hat. Then she took off her shoes, slipped out of the long lace dress and draped it over the suitcase and began to slowly and patiently untie her petticoat. Letting the undergarment drop to the floor, she quickly picked it up and placed it next to the dress. She then slid out the hair pin, which had been holding her hair tightly in a bun, which allowed her long, dark tresses to come cascading halfway down her back.

As she wrapped herself in the towel, Elizabeth stepped out of the room and silently strolled down the hallway to where Chang had said the washroom was located. She pushed the already slightly ajar washroom door open and saw a cast iron, claw footed bathtub filled with enough hot water to steam up the washroom’s small mirror. She slowly closed the door and noticed a brass key inserted in the keyhole in which she turned, effectively locking the door. Slipping out of the towel, she cautiously placed her toe just beneath the waterline to test the temperature and found it hot but comfortable. So she carefully stepped into the tub and leisurely lowered herself down in the soothing bathwater.

As she let the heat relax her tired bones, Elizabeth took a small bar of milk white soap from an ivory dish left by the side of the tub and began to scrub away all the road dust she had accumulated from her long trip. She dunked her head under the water to soak her hair and used the soap to wash her scalp and let the liquefied suds mingle through her long locks. She had just dunked her head down for a second time to rinse off any excess soap, when she was startled by a loud knock on the washroom door. A familiar voice soon called out.

“Dinner ready! In kitchen!”

It was, once again, the insufferable Miss Chang.

“Yes, Miss Chang. Thank you,” Elizabeth replied, in a slightly perturbed tone.

“Bath over!! Now…you eat!!” Elizabeth heard Chang order, then the inevitable sound of Chang’s loud footsteps as she once again stormed off.

How could such a little woman be so irritating? Elizabeth amusingly thought, as she grudgingly gave up the idea of spending a little more time relaxing in the bath. So she stepped out of the tub, dried herself off, then re-wrapped the towel around her and unlocked the door to go back to her room.

Taking a comb she had stored in a small compact travel case, Elizabeth charily brushed out the tingles and tangles in her hair before tying it back into the ever so proper bun. She stowed the towel and stepped into some fresh full length cotton underwear retrieved from the suitcase, and on into the romper, before slipping on some flat back shoes and heading into the hallway and back downstairs.

In the living room, Elizabeth noted Chang was nowhere to be found and she had no idea where the kitchen was located. So she sniffed the air to try and detect any aroma of food being cooked but to no avail. She did, however, hear some distant voices coming from somewhere inside the house.

Elizabeth followed the sounds of those voices which eventually led her to a room on the other side of the house. As she guardedly approached, the voices become louder and more familiar. The room’s door was wide open and when she reached the entrance, Elizabeth did not immediately go in. Instead, she peered around the corner.

The room seemed to serve as a study with tall, wooden shelves that were filled with a multitude of leather bound books. A couple of soft cloth chairs, located in the center of the room, had been placed on top of a large silk throw rug that displayed the images of cherry blossom branches that had been beautifully woven into the fabric.

By now Elizabeth easily recognized the voices. It seemed Father Polsky and Carlton Chambers were heavily engaged in some type of discussion. Elizabeth took a half step further in to be able to peek around the corner. She saw Chambers holding what appeared to be a stuffed envelope. He was in the process of handing it over to Father Polsky as he spoke.

“This should be more than adequate, Father.”

Without looking into the envelope, Father Polsky placed it into his upper frock pocket and nodded.

“As always, thank you Carlton,” Polsky humbly replied.

“So, I can count on you to do the proper thing?” Carlton assuredly asked.

“From my lips to God’s ears,” Father Polsky assuredly responded.

Just as Elizabeth was wondering what was going on, she almost inadvertently let out a scream when she felt someone grab a hold of her arm. She quickly spun around to see Miss Chang standing before her with her usual scowl.

“Kitchen! This way!” Chang sternly whispered.

Elizabeth, embarrassed by the whole incident nodded, then followed Miss Chang back across the living room and into a small side room that apparently served as the house kitchen.

Inside was a wooden stove with a pinewood dinning table, around which four hemp strapped chairs had been neatly placed. On top of the table was a neatly placed plate of cooked chicken smothered in gravy sauce, a bowl of steamed rice, a dish containing a single ear of hot buttered corn on the cob, and a porcelain cup filled to the brim with green tea. A wooden knife and fork set, along with a pair of chopsticks, rounded out the placement.

“You eat!! Now!!” Chang firmly instructed. So Elizabeth took a seat, silently recited a prayer of gratitude for the food, then began to eat voraciously. She hadn’t realized how famished she had become and just how heavenly this meal tasted. All of a sudden, just as Chang left the kitchen, Father Polsky strolled in.

Elizabeth was embarrassed on two fronts. The first was how guilty she felt for secretly “eavesdropping” in on his conversation with Carlton Chambers and the second, how she was gobbling her food down like some starved animal.

“I’m so sorry for my table manners,” Elizabeth apologized.

“No apologies required, my dear,” the Father sweetly replied, “I figured you’d be exhausted and ravenous after your long trip, so I arranged a bath drawn for you and had this meal especially prepared.”

“Thank you so much, Father,” Elizabeth replied, taking a white cloth napkin to wipe the corners of her mouth, “the meal is delicious and the bath wasvery relaxing, but may I ask where’d you get the corn?”

Father Polsky let out a hearty laugh and used his bamboo cane to limp over and take a seat opposite Elizabeth at the table. He took out a pipe from his coat pocket then took a wooden match from a small box on the table to light the pipe’s bowl. The sweet aroma of mint tobacco flooded the kitchen. It was the same aroma Elizabeth fondly remembered when her father would smoke his pipe back in Nebraska.

“I actually have a small garden in the back where I try to grow various vegetables,” Polsky explained, “and somehow corn seems to do very well in the Chinese soil.”

“Well again I thank you for your warm welcome,” Elizabeth appreciatively said, “by the way, will Mr. Chambers be joining us?”

Father Polsky drew deeply on the pipe and let the bluish smoke swirl around his face before answering.

“Oh, I’m afraid he left right after Miss Chang took you inside the house to show you to your quarters.”

Elizabeth suddenly wondered why the good Father had just lied to her.

Polsky continued, “He did ask me to convey to you his apologies and promised he would be back by in a few days. You see, it’s best not to be out on the roads past sunset. Unfortunately, there are just too many Godless, seedy souls out and about after dark.”

“Seedy souls like the Dragons?” Elizabeth heard herself ask, “And they seem to be out during the day as well.”

Just as she uttered those words, Elizabeth quickly realized she had spoken out of turn and needed to learn to keep her mouth shut.

Polsky subtly laughed, “Well, the Dragons do have their detractors but for now they are the closet thing we have to a police force around these parts to help preserve the peace.”

“I am sosorry, Father,” Elizabeth apologized, “obviously I haven’t been here long enough to earn the right to express any kind of opinion.”

“Oh, do not worry, Elizabeth,” Father Polsky consoled, “I, for one, appreciate a young woman such as yourself speaking her mind. There are too many in this world who fail to speak out until it is too late. Sadly, this is what I find is happening in China these days.”

“What do you mean?” Elizabeth wondered.

Father Polsky fell silent for a moment, as he continued to draw on the pipe. Elizabeth noticed the far away look in his eyes, as if he were deep in thought before attempting to answer another one of her questions.

“Oh nothing, my dear. We’ll have plenty of time later on to discuss these matters. Meanwhile, I just wanted to invite you to join the rest of the staff for breakfast in the morning. I’ll make all of the formal introductions then.”

“Looking forward to it,” Elizabeth enthusiastically stated.

Father Polsky used his thumb to mash out the fire in the pipe bowl and replaced the pipe back inside his pocket as he rose from the table.

“If you don’t mind,” he started, “I think I’ll retire for the night. I hope you found your quarters suitable.”

“Very cozy,” Elizabeth smiled.

“Good. If you would, when you finish your dinner, just place the dish and bowl on the counter. Pia, our cook, will be here first thing in the morning to clean up.”

“Oh, I don’t mind washing the dishes right now,” Elizabeth replied, “it’s the least I can do for all the courtesy you’ve shown me so far.”

“That won’t be necessary, Elizabeth,” the Father returned, “cleaning the kitchen is one of Pia’s responsibilities.”

“But it won’t be any trouble for me at all,” Elizabeth re-stated.

“No!” the Father replied, a little too sternly to Elizabeth’s surprise, “it is, as they say here in China, his rice bowl.”

Elizabeth frowned, “I don’t understand.”

“What I mean”, the Father explained, “is that it is his job. The Chinese are a very proud people and take their responsibilities very seriously. It is his rice bowl means it is his job. His way to earn the right to eat, so to say. To deny the Chinese their duty to earn their keep is considered an insult, even if you have the best of intentions. So just let Pia take care of the dishes, okay?”

Elizabeth nodded.

“Very good,” the Father said, as he headed off to bed, “Good night, Elizabeth. God bless and sleep well.”

“Good night, Father,” Elizabeth returned, as she tried to take in all that she had just witnessed.

So as she finished her dinner, she still wondered why Polsky had lied to her as to when Carlton had actually left and, more importantly, what was in that puzzling envelope Carlton had handed over to the good Father?

Just more questions Elizabeth Ander added to the multitude she had already accumulated in a place that, from the very onset, was full of mystery.


© Copyright 2017 Nikki Evans. All rights reserved.

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