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Pointed Sword

by

Don MacNaughton

CHAPTER 1
In adversity a man is saved by hope
Menander 342-291 BC
©Don MacNaughton

The summer rains fell unkindly on the lands of north China in the Year of the Ox, the twenty-sixth year of the Republic. Heavily, with all too brief interludes, it poured down causing rivers to flood their banks, streams to become rivers, the constant saturation water-logging crop fields and threatening, unless the skies soon dried, to drown the young root vegetables of the second year's planting. The soil, rich yellow loess once the fertile crust of the Gobi Desert before wind erosion transported it south, powerless under the constant bombardment from above, melted under settling surface water to a soupy mire.

Han Chih, battling valiantly to save the crop of one of his village fields, paused for a moment's rest. Clasping both hands to the handle of his hoe, making use of the support it provided, he straightened to look up for the first time in over an hour. He had begun his work soon after dawn, wearing, to deflect the rain that fell then, a straw cape and a large rounded grease-paper insulated straw hat and baggy knee length cotton trousers tied at the waist with a cloth cord. The cape now discarded, for the skies had cleared drawing sweat to the surface of his body, he gazed out across the flat farmland. From under the protecting shade of his head gear, because the sun on appearing in the intervals between constantly arriving banks of rain-sodden cloud, blazed a fearsome heat. In idle observation Chih slowly turned his head looking about at the familiar surroundings.

The field he was working was not his own. This land around his village belonged to the local landlord. His father did have fields which the family worked as their own but these, like all the village's farms, were on lease from the landlord. Rent for their use being paid by giving him a portion of their harvest and obliged too, as Chih was now doing, labour in the landlord's own household fields.

The hands that gripped Chih's hoe were large for a Chinese but then this was north China where they boast with pride of their big men. And he was bigger than most, as his name Chih, 'Stands Erect', implied. Over six feet, his shoulders square, body slim but muscular, and despite close cropped hair, the shallow face and flattered nose of his race, a man of handsome features. With the sheen brought on by perspiration highlighting his bronzed skin, Chih at twenty four years, looked and was, a young man at the peak of fitness and health.

Although attributed to the blessing over recent years of ample food provided from rich harvests, it was very much the reverse during his years of childhood and early youth. Bitter years of want culminating with the famine in the Year of the Snake, eight summers past, 1929 of the Christian's calendar that was a time of sorrow, not only for Chih's village, but for all of north China. The rains had repeatedly failed, causing, in that year, starvation, disease and death. If it had not been for him in the big house, the landlord, their village would have suffered like most others in Hopei Province, their occupants faced with two choices; staying and starve or joining the flood of forced migrants thronging the roads in hungry, aimless and for most unrewarded wanderings, seeking anew land that would give them shelter and food; above all, food.

Guarding it well, and rationing his store of grain, the landlord marshalled the villagers, setting them to the work of irrigating selected fields with water from the river that flowed below the big house. Day and night, in earthen pots they had carried this water on wheelbarrows on shoulder poled or scooping it up to flow above its own level, with the aid of foot powered waterwheels, lifting it ever higher, ditch to ditch.

Even though that year the river dropped far below its bank the villagers were still able to draw a constant supply, rewarding them with a meagre, but life-saving, spring harvest. Painfully, due to hunger and disease, of the many hundreds of thousands in north China who died that winter and spring, almost two hundred people from Han Chih's village were among them, mostly the old and children. Within his family alone, was lost his mother, when the snow was thickest, from a sickness of the cold, fever and uncontrolled coughing. Then in the first warm month of spring, second and fourth brother were taken by the black pox. Only he, the family's first son, his father, third son and sister, lived through those desperate days to eat bread baked from that spring's harvest. The loaves paid for beyond price.

Re-gripping the hoe, about to begin again, his endless task of draining the water from between the rows of sweet-potatoes, Chih paused, his attention caught by the strange behaviour of another man, one of the landlord's sons, working an adjoining field to his right. He had also stopped work and, in a rigid position, was staring beyond and behind Chih in the direction of the village. Curious, he turned at the waist to see a shaft of grey smoke bent by a light breeze, being carried up and northwards. Masked from Chih's vision by a field of high standing kaoliang but judging its base to be only one Li distant, it was obvious to the young farmer that the origin of the fire was somewhere within his village, which was puzzling, for no one there could afford to sacrifice fuel for a burning of such a size. Concerned, he began to make his way to the bordering path which ran alongside the kaoliang field. Reaching this pathway, shaking clinging mud from his bare feet, Chih was not surprised to notice the landlord's son, also unsighted by the kaoliang, moving to a flank for a clearer view of the source of the smoke.

As Chin broke into a trot, he heard a sharp cracking sound like that caused when flame consumed bamboo. With the noise repeating itself, the landlord's son, some distance from him and with a clear view around the kaoliang was seen to stop, staring with surprise. Then taken by a sudden panic, he dropped his mattock to run off towards the big house, Alarmed now, with the cracking, distant as well as near and increasing, Chih also broke into a run. The kaoliang, eight feet tall thickly grown and still growing, was for the eyes an impenetrable wall. Not until the farmer rounded its western edge did he have a clear view and then he could only stare in bewilderment.

From the direction of his village, where the smoke was swelling in density, a number of villagers were running. In pursuit of them were soldiers in strange uniforms, khaki brown with on their heads, helmets of metal. Here and there the soldiers would stop their chasing to raise the rifle that each carried and fire at those escaping before them.

Dumbfounded, Chih was incapable of comprehension what he was seeing. Soldiers had passed through his village before, billeting themselves where they wished, taking food but never harming.

"Wrong! Wrong! This is wrong," he shouted, but in his mind only.

"Chih! Chih!"

Turning in response to his name being cried out, running towards him across a near field Chih sees Tsan-Chi, P'eng Yao-Ming's third son. Following him, a soldier paused to point his rifle, another crack sounded and Tsan-Chi tumbled to the ground.

In silence, Chih watched as the soldier rushed upon the fallen youth, checking his run he drew his arms back, about to plunge the sword blade fixed to the point of his rifle into the groaning form at his feet.

"Stop! Stop!" cried Chih, not realising he had raised the hoe he still carried above his head in a threatening manner.

Blandly, naïve to the danger, the young farmer stood watching as the soldier snapped the rifle to his shoulder aiming it at him. The last Han Chih remembered of that soldier was the yellow star on his helmet and a spark igniting at the tip of his rifle.

--oOo--

Pain was his first conscious sensation, constant throbbing pain to his head, then cold caused in part by the raindrops he could feel striking upon his face but more so from the wet chill that prevailed throughout his limbs and body. With eyes that opened weakly he at first could make out only dark movements. As his vision regained focus the young farmer found himself observing above him kaoliang stalks in black silhouette gently swaying across the less black background of a cloud-filled night sky. Placing a hand to the side of his head, where the hurt was most acute, Chih's touch aggravated the area even more, fingers springing back, but not before discovering the flesh at his right temple to be cut open.

Lain sprawled head downwards in an irrigation ditch with his left arm and should submerged in water, Chih was at first incapable of asking himself why this was, for his memory in early wakening moments refused to function. Only after crawling on hands and knees onto the path were the events of the soldiers, with the villagers running before them, remembered. Suffering dizziness, his thoughts confused, the big farmer struggled to stand and although unsure of his bearings stumbled off in what he judged to be the direction of his village. On the cart-track leading over the arched stone built Water Crane Bridge that crossed a stream tributary to the main river, he found two lifeless bodies. Bending close he recognised them as a father and son, near neighbours he had known all his life. Until this moment, worried thoughts for his family were kept in check. Now at the sight of these two dead, terror for their safety gripped his very spirit. Breaking into a faltering run, his steps ungainly over the familiar but dark, broken and slippery track, he crossed the bridge and dashed through the west gate entrance with its thick protecting clay wall that encircled his village.

As it should be at night the unlit streets were silent, not though the silence of a hamlet at nocturnal rest. Running bare footed past wall enclosed homes no dogs, sensing his presence, barked as they should have at this hour. Beaten earthed street ways which would have been empty were strewn, singly and in groups, with rain-drenched corpses, lounging in sinister postures. Scattered there also as if thrown out unwanted were household furnishings and kitchen utensils, pots, jars, stools, tables, all broken, a wasteful act in such an impoverished village.

Unseen by Chih as he rushed through the flung open gateway of his family home, a youth hunched motionless, his head bowed, squatted concealed in darkness against the opposite wall. Racing across the courtyard the distraught farmer entered the mud brick house through a broken doorway. Totally blind in the pitch blackness of the kitchen room, Chih called repeatedly his wife's name, "Jou-cha! Jou-cha!" With no response, he began searching sightless through the sleeping rooms of the single-floored dwelling alternating calling for the other members of his family; father, brother, sister, his eldest child. Unanswered and stumbling unseeing over the sparse contents of his home; which everywhere littered the floors, he felt about unsuccessfully, for the oil lamp. In frustration of the darkness hindering his searching, sweating with alarm over the whereabouts of his family, Chih, his arms thrashing blindly, manoeuvred himself out of the house to the rear yard.

Again calling out for his loved ones, the young farmer ran everywhere in his searching, the dark areas behind the duck pond and vegetable garden, the ox-stable, empty, the fuel shed partially destroyed by fire, its year storage of recently gathered wheat straw, burnt away. Desperate, his mind incapable of rational thought he ran back to the courtyard, his eyes probing all the dark corners as he circled the ground. Coming to a stop in the street, at a loss as to where he should seek his family next, through the infant glow of an approaching rain-veiled dawn, he caught sight of the youth still squatting opposite.

"Where is the family of this house? Have you seen them?" demanded Chih, towering over the boy.

"Where? Where?" he added, with a bark, impatient for an answer. The youth distressed and crying, Chih recognised him as a boy from the far side of the village.

"Killed! Killed!" wailed the youngster, "All killed. Everyone killed."

"You have lived. You are alive. Why is this?" challenged Chih clutching at hope for his own family.

"When the soldiers began to shoot and stab, I ran away and hid in farmer Ku's sorghum field" was the boy's sobbing reply.

"Yes! Yes!" cried Chih, turning to run again, this time out of the village. "The kaoliang! That is where they will be hiding."

Two hours later, his throat raw from calling out over and over the names of his wife and family, the young farmer returned to his deserted, ramshackle home. Arms badly scratched by the coarse kaoliang stalks during his forceful but fruitless searching of the dense sorghum fields, he strolled aimlessly around the vandalised rooms heedless of their damage, hoping that from somewhere one or all of his missing family would miraculously appear. It was in his family sleeping room that Chih first noticed blotches of blood. Difficult to detect by the light of a wet overcast day whose light was further inhibited trying to penetrate the room's wax paper window. The blood was mostly on the surface of the brick sleeping kang which was heated in winter by clay piping running from the main cooking stove. Stooped, he began to follow a trail of blood streaks leading from the kang across the wear polished mud brick floor until losing it on the water soaked ground, again began scouring the outbuildings and property.

On skirting the family cesspit, ignored searching earlier in the dark, the farmer glancing down froze to a halt, a shrill cry of horror streaming from a mouth sprung wide. Dropping into the pit he struggled knee deep in the quagmire to drag his naked wife to the muddy but firmer access slope. Then babbling pleas, words of reassurance and appeals to the gods for intervention, he re-entered the morass to lift his two children, Tsao-yen, a son aged three, and Wen-sha, a daughter not yet a year old, out of the vile muck. With his mind a swirl of crazed delusion he began comforting first one then another wiping filth and human faeces from eyes and mouths while crying out to spirits and departed ancestors for their aid in re-awakening his wife and children from unconsciousness, brought about, he frantically yearned to believe, because of their injuries. An extreme, though understandable, hope of a man who loved deeply the three stilled figures slumbering in the mud. Someone, whose eyes masked with grief had refused to acknowledge the full extent of his family's wounds. The daughter, her tiny garment bloodied front and back had received three bayonet thrusts through the body. Her brother clad only in hand spun cotton breeched was also pierced by bayonet blades, while an eye hung from its socket, dislodged by a brutal blow to the side of his ruptured head where a portion of the child's brain and shattered skull fragments were seen. His wife, her face and upper body beaten, and discoloured by bruising, was like his two children, also dead. After prolonged raping, her kill crazed attackers had dispatched the young mother in a most barbarous and painful way, plunging their bayonets into her vagina and lower abdomen.

Acceptance by Chih of their deaths was for many minutes a fact he was unable to realise. He knew them only as family filled with joy and life. Remembering, on returning from the fields in the evening, Tsao-yen running up with happy laughter to grasp his legs. Wen-sha asleep in his arms and the sweetness of winter nights when he and Jou-cha would make love on the warm quilt covered kang. From the moment he had entered the pit hope for them had flickered strongly. Sadly his admission otherwise was inevitable, the stiffness of their limbs, bodies devoid of warmth were incontestable signs against. Slowly his actions stilled resolved to his loss he knelt, hands buried in mud, head bowed, tears mingling with the rain as they trickled onto the pale loess sludge. Then, his body hardening, triggered by a raging anguish within, his back straightening, head arched backwards, mud caked fists flinging themselves skywards, his mouth torn open by a grief laden lament, the sorrow deranged young farmer screamed to the cloud hidden heaven above him a cry more beast than human.

--oOo--

Brighter weather prevailed in the afternoon hours, mocking, it seemed, the villages' occupants. For the change was of no consequence to the dead and of those still living suppressive sorrow and bewilderment for the future numbed any appreciative relief from the former constant wetness. Stone grey clouds, in one continual line, as if the shore of an ocean tumbled north-westwards on seasonal wind currents, unveiling a pale blue sky and a scorching sun determined in an instant to dry the land below.

Han Chih was aware of none of this as he dug with his hoe a shallow grave pit to bury his family. Using Liu Yang-Ching's wheelbarrow he brought five bodies up to the tree-crowned-knoll that for hundreds of years was the village cemetery. Three of those were his wife and children the other two, his father and brother he found with a score of others lined on the village threshing ground, tied together with a cord around their necks and slaughtered en mass. They he found early in his searching, after first bringing his wife and children to the cemetery but had spent all of the mid and late morning hours fruitlessly hunting through the village for his sister. Into every dwelling and out among the fields he hunted, giving up only when told by Shem Che-Yuan the river ferryman, who survived by concealing himself in the river shore reeds, that most young girls were taken by the soldiers when they left the previous afternoon.

On learning that his sister was very likely alive but in the hands of those who had killed almost everyone of his village, Chih had dug hurriedly. He would pursue the soldiers and somehow obtain her release, but first the others of his family, those dead, he must cover with earth protecting them from a sun that would bloat their bodies and from flies that breed maggots which would eat their flesh. On his return he would see each was provided with a coffin and reburied in separate graves.

Digging on the communal grave had not been an easy task. The earth, so heavy from rain it was almost clay. This, combined with Chih's head wound, although no longer bleeding, was still painful and causing recurring periods of dizziness made his labour to scoop away the soil far harder than it should have been. On account of this, and because of his rasping breathing from the strain of drawing the paste-like loess loam back into the grave, he only became aware of someone's presence when the man in a faded green uniform with a leather pouch slung from one should, spoke.

"So it was your village they visited to take their revenge."

"Soldiers came, killing" replied Chih to the district postman's comment, pausing his work to learn more from the slim, grey-templed but sinewy-legged man who had delivered mail to his village throughout all of the young farmer's living memory.

"Foreign soldiers" commented Ch'en Yao-Tsu, the postman. "Japanese from the North. China and Japan are at war. The dwarf soldiers came on a train after our retreating soldiers but magistrate Yang ordered the taking out of an iron rail it rides on. The fire powered engine crashed, causing some of the wagons it was pulling to break off and turn over."

"But why did they come here and kill so many?" asked Chih, his words spoken slowly in a voice that trembled with both anger and remorse.

"Some Japanese died in the train crash. They became mad! Very mad! Officers sent three large groups off in different directions." Ch'en turned to point, "Fifteen Li, there. I hid and seen them return at sunset with animals, food grain and young girls.

"War! Why war?" cried Chih more a plea of despair than a question.

"Japanese start fighting at Peiping with General Sung's army. Drove him out and took the city. Now Generalissimo Chiang is sending his army to chase the dwarf soldiers back into Manchuria." Lifting the flap of his leather pouch the postman took out a roll of newspapers. "All I have said is in honoured Feng Te-pai's newspapers. He can read and explain."

Feng Te-pai was a scholar from a city called Tiensin who retired in his old age to Chih's village. Living alone, he took it upon himself to teach the children who would come, to read, write and count. This was a rare opportunity for children of a poor farming village, one which Chih's father insisted he take advantage of. Taught and storing to memory several hundred of the basic written characters he could from the age of fourteen read scholar Feng's monthly delivered Teinsin newspapers with a fundamental understanding of most of what was printed.

"Feng Te-Pai is dead" Chih had resumed his work drawing the soil back into the grave, covering bodies that lay side-by-side.

"Scholar Feng dead also. They even kill the old ones?" exclaimed Ch'en, astonished at such an unthinkable act.

"All killed" confirmed the farmer continuing to work. The sight of Feng Te-Pai's severed head set atop his courtyard wall returned to him.

"There is also a letter for the big house," commented the postman addressing his words to Chih's bent back. "The aunt. The widowed one who lives in Tehchow."

"They too are dead" informed the farmer, busy with his hoe.

"Everyone?" asked Ch'en, turning his head to look in the direction of the large tile-roofed building by the river bank.

"All. No-one is alive." Repeated Chih who had searched for his sister amongst the carnage of the landlord's household. Family and servant old and infants, all butchered."

"No matter, I will leave what has been sent at the houses. Perhaps relatives will come," announced Ch'en resolving his obligation in the simplest manner.

They parted without exchanges of farewell. Chih far too consumed with grief for social politeness and Ch'en Yao-Tsu his thoughts centred elsewhere. Despite this event of brutal massacre he was the district postman, there were other letters for other villages.

Finishing the burial, fatigued and heartbroken, Chih sank onto his knees, his eyes free of tears for only the last hour began to moisten. Head dropping the eyelids slowly closed, his hands in rekindling anger gripped and re-gripped fists of soil as his memory raced through the past bringing to life for a fleeting moment those in the ground beneath. The last memory a face and accompanying voice of an eight year old girl.

"Water, brother. Cool from the well." It was his sister, Cheng-fu and it was the time of the drought. A hot noon day, he was above her taking his turn powering with his legs one of the irrigation water-wheels. In an up-stretched hand she held a chipped clay cup. "Drink Chih. Drink."

Standing, the tall farmer, barefooted, his only dress the loose cotton breeches, shouldered his hoe, a tool in order to rescue his sister, he was, if necessary, prepared to use as a weapon. A last brief gaze over the village where his life had begun showed to him figures searching through the desolation. Perhaps, concerned relatives or friends from neighbouring villages but more likely ghouls and looters. For a moment he watched Ch'en crossing Water Crane Bridge on his trek to the big house. Then turning east in the direction the postman had seen the Japanese and captive girls, Han Chih set off with determined steps, vowing he would recover Ching-Fu.

Believing his quest to be a short affair, he set off, ignorant in the knowledge that he was never again to return to his village, failing also in his bid to rescue Ching Fu. After being forced into service with a Japanese army brothel, less than a year later, contracting syphilis, she was cast onto the streets of Yangchou, where at the age of seventeen, she took release from her suffering through suicide, drowning herself in the waters of the Grand Canal.

Fortunately, this was to be forever unknown to her brother, who, setting out with intent to rescue not revenge, nonetheless was to avenge in Japanese blood, her death and that of his whole family many times over.

CHAPTER 2
Duty determines destiny
William McKinley

Judging with tense glances the slope of the green between himself and the hole, Mark Ellison once more broke from his putting stance to inspect the last three feet of run his ball would have to the cup. This, the third time he had done so brought from his golf partners mixed comments.

"Crumbs Mark, we're not playing the Colony Championships" joked Sarah Newman, brushing a strand of light brown hair off a face wide in smile.

"It's a twenty footer, old man. You'll have to settle for at least one more poke after this," pointed out Kit Sewell, impishly.

"Plus a ticking off from the club secretary thrown in for good measure" added Rosina Sewell, Kit's sister, bowing her head towards the players on the fairway behind, waiting not for the first time, for them to finish on the green and move to the next tee. Although Mark and the other two chuckled at this, his was forced so as not to let on the remark had nipped.

Rosina, a tall entrancing blond, at five feet nine was just an inch shorter than her equally attractive younger brother. A smile would more than have confirmed just how beautiful she was, but none accompanied her remark, nor had there been one that Mark could remember since starting their game early that morning. At twenty-two, two years older than the other three and the more accomplished golfer, her attitude towards Ellison, her weaker playing partner, had begun to niggle him as being a touch too lofty. Over the eighteen months of their acquaintance, through his association with her brother as a work colleague, he had always found she presented to most everyone she met a polite but aloof personality. He had never taken offence at this, understanding the need of someone as enticing as her to keep at bay unwanted male attention by adopting an ice maiden façade. This morning though it had got to him. Tennis and cricket were his games but these were winter sports in this part of the world, played when humidity and the sun were a lesser bedevilment. A poor golfer, much in need of the handicap given him, he could accept his bad golfing but was finding Rosina's constant offering of excuses for being so, verging on patronising.

With his desire to sink this putt far from hidden, Mark returned to address his ball. This was the seventeenth and if he could down the shot he might well win the hole, his first of the game. Hands nervously alternating their grip on the putter, feet shifting fractionally back and forth, eyes darting from ball to cup, a lock of black hair dropping across his forehead was quickly returned with a backward flick of his head, throughout, the four Chinese caddies standing rock still.

The course was at Fan Ling, in the British leased new territories on the Chinese mainland north of Hong Kong. With the beginning of another hot sultry August day, a Saturday, our four players had begun their game shortly after sunrise, which, for them, meant a pre-dawn start from Hong Kong Island but such an early departure was for good reasons. Being the weekend, bookings of later popular tee-off times was tight. Also, as Rosina was the only full club member in the party, they had to accept whatever was offered. Despite the dawn chorus start there was a plus side, they were well up the tenth fairway before the sun's heat had turned conditions noticeably tacky.

Not surprisingly, Mark didn't win the hole and was nowhere in contention for the last either, but he wasn't a loser. He and Rosina, thanks to her superior strokes and putting, beat the other couple. A feat not all that applaudable considering Kit and Sarah, while not officially courting, were sweet on each other and exercised more of their limited skills placing their balls as near as possible to one another, favouring cosy conversation to a competitive contest.

At the two-storey clubhouse, after changing their shoes and storing their clubs in the car, they jointly owned, Mark and Kit entered the clubhouse to join the girls for a midmorning refreshment drink. Waiting for them at the entrance to the bar was Sarah, alone.

"Ros is still across at the ladies' clubhouse but only just remembered she promised to meet someone in Kowloon, She says she's sorry. Was just about to dash when I left her" explained Sarah.

Just then, they were approached by the reception desk clerk who handed Mark a note.

"Stone me!" he exclaimed. "I've got to get back to Hong Kong double quick."

"What?" replied Kit dragging the word out in a manner of disappointment as he took the note being handed him to read.

"Oh Mark. But our picnic" added Sarah her face also showing regret. After their golf the three had planned to take a leisurely drive up to Stanling Inlet for a picnic lunch.

"I'll have to drop out. You two go and enjoy yourselves" apologised Mark, squeezing her arm. "A phone. I'd best call the office and let them know I'm on my way."

"No time, old man" cautioned Kit, handing the note back after reading it. "This has Pearson's name on it and if that old dragon says your presence would be appreciated at the office as soon as conveniently possible that means he wanted you there an hour ago. I'll phone, tell them you're on your way. You dash and catch Ros. Poach a lift before she shoots off. If she's gone already, I and Sarah will pop you back."

At the run, an arm waving, he only just caught Kit's sister as she turned her car out of the parking area onto the entrance drive.

"Ros, can I beg a lift from you? I've just received a telephone message to get back to the office quick" explained Mark, halting the passenger side of the young woman's American Ford convertible.

"On a Saturday?" she questioned in reply.

"Precisely" Mark agreeing with her surprise. "It may not be a case of life or death but it can't be far off."

"Oh, I hardly think that" replied the woman, giving him one of her older sister looks before glancing at her wrist watch. "I'm meeting someone in Kowloon, not returning to Hong Kong."

"If a small detour to the ferry dock wouldn't be too much of a bother, that would be just super for me," appealed the young man. Inwardly annoyed at being edged by her into making the proposal.

"Of course, Mark, that's no inconvenience. More than pleased to help. Hop in." There was no smile and the tone of her voice was cool politeness not cheery.

It is almost twenty-five miles from Fan Ling to Victoria Harbour, the mile wide stretch of water that separates Hong Kong Island from the mainland. A road distance that was not unknown to become a drive of up to an hour and a half. However, Rosina glided to a halt at the Star Ferry Pier forty-five minutes after leaving the golf course. In a temper, or trying to impress Ellison, she drove flat out, the speedometer gauge at times passing sixty. A wild spell negotiating the bends on the assent up to and around Piper Hill before easing down for her run through the streets of western Kowloon, if apprehended, would have alone warranted a charge for wanton and furious driving.

"Awfully kind, Ros. I hope there will be an opportunity for me to return the favour shortly," thanked Mark, throwing shut the convertible door as he stepped back from the car.

"Goodbye, Mark. I enjoyed our round of golf" was the young woman's reply, given offhandedly without looking at him before steering her car through the carts, rickshaws and other motor traffic out onto, then east along Salisbury Road.

"Blow me, Rosina Sewell. You make liking you damn hard work," commented Ellison to himself. Of course, she hadn't enjoyed the game. Sweet talked by her brother into getting them an early morning slot on the course and partner Ellison in the match, she had every reason to be narked. And she must have known the golf was only a preliminary to the other three's more eagerly looked forward to pre-planned weekend treat, the picnic lunch.

Standing at the ferry railing as it crossed to Hong Kong Island, Ellison, in a moment of doubt about the note he had received, searched his pocket for it. Remembering, on pausing at the clubhouse door, looking back to see the broad satisfied smile on Kit's face as he reached for Sarah's hand. Could this be a hoax engineered by him so he could have her all to himself for the rest of the day? Re-reading the note, Mark dismissed the notion. Kit's father was the shipping manager of the company they both worked for but even he wouldn't dare fake Pearson's name, the firm's Personnel Manager, to a false message.

Deeply puzzled by the note, his eyes drifted to the approaching shore. Before him, spreading both east and west for almost four miles was the City of Victoria. Rarely referred to as such, Hong Kong, the name of the crown colony being the one generally used. These wharf fronts and streets beyond them, where tall European styled buildings rose, second only to Shanghai, accommodated offices and headquarters of all the major British business, banking and commercial trading firms dealing throughout southern China. Procured from China at gunpoint as a trading post in the previous century, it grew slowly until the last thirty years when an upsurge in commerce triggered an explosion in population and building. The island, a rocky crag with limited level surface soon exhausted, even after attempts at reclaiming from the sea, all suitable building land causing an overspill across the harbour to Kowloon, which rapidly grew into a second city. Flanking the tidy streets of Central, the commercial district of the city and the heart of Hong Kong, were Europeanised parks, hotels and shopping stores. Then extending each way along the cost and up the slope behind, the streets and districts turned predominantly Chinese. Eating shops, cloth shops, small jewellers, tailors, grocer shops, market stalls and tenement accommodation, gave to Hong Kong the same sounds and smells found everywhere within metropolitan China.

Above them, with undisguised snobbishness, resided the peakites, Hong Kong's well off. The awarding of this title was given because of the hill their houses and bungalows were perched on, Victoria Peak. With a summit that reached eighteen hundred feet, the views they enjoyed from its upper slopes overlooking the city, a major harbour in constant motion, Kowloon seen in panoramic detail and beyond the pale brown hills of mainland China, were one of the world's more imposing.

Normally a ten minute walk from the wooden ferry pier to the office building on Queens Road, Ellison halved the time by taking a rickshaw. As it was a Saturday expectedly, the familiar presence of the company employed Sikh doorman, tall bearded, stately robed with the erectness of a Grecian column, was absent. The building, a four storey stone construction, was the main offices of Livingston's, one of the leading British merchant houses in China. Founded in the early days of the colony's birth by a Scotsman, Philip Livingston, its rise to prominence had a jaded history smuggling opium, trading and their commercial interests protected by links with pirate clans. Whispered, unproven evils joked about now by a respected establishment governed by a board of Directors presiding from offices in the City of London and commanding a large share of all imports and exports contracted for in an area stretching from Hong Kong to the Yellow River.

Mark Ellison had joined the company because of a liking for China he gained as a young boy when his father, a marine civil engineer, had brought his family to the country while working for a French firm in the north, building breakwaters and harbour defences at a number of sea ports. Returning to England when fourteen, at eighteen he joined Livingston's. Spending a six month apprentice period in the London office being monitored for suitability before given passage to Hong Kong, a three year contract of employment in his pocket.

Surprisingly the entrance hall reception desk was manned. Jack Saunders, an ex-Essex regiment sergeant in his late forties, who on time expiring from the army settled in Hong Kong with a Chinese wife, was at this regular weekday post to greet him.

"Good morning Mr Ellison, They're expecting you upstairs, sir."

"They?" questioned Mark. "Who?"

"Mr Villiers, Mr Pearson, Mr McKeane, their secretaries and clerks in as well," replied Saunders, turning to glance into a small room to his left where the building's telephone switchboard was.

"That sounds sinister. What's up?" asked the young man turning back from the elevator to approach Saunders' desk.

"Bit of a flap on, I'm afraid, sir" informed the ex-soldier.

"What sort of flap?" pressed Ellison taking another step closer to the desk.

"It's best you be told that by the gentlemen upstairs Mr Ellison" advised Saunders adopting a polite military tone.

"Come on Jack, give us a hint. What am I walking into?" Mark's request was almost a boyish plea.

Saunders for a moment said nothing. Then pressing his lips tight together, leaned forward, head turning to check the staircase landings were empty.

"There's been a motor car accident outside Shanghai. Four of our blokes are either dead or seriously injured. All a bit vague like. Thems upstairs don't seem to know much. Been trying to contact the Nanking office on the telephone but I'm not too clever with that switchboard thing or the lingo. Mr Fowler was sent off over two hours ago to fetch in Alice."

"God!" exclaimed Ellison before asking "But what's all this to do with me?"

"Shan't say, sir. You had best get on up and tap the boards," suggested Saunders, adding "Now don't let on I gave you the wink Mister Ellison, sir."

Mark, over six feet tall, twenty years old and a keen sportsman, ignoring the elevator, took the staircase steps two at a time. Puzzled by this summons to the top floor, he knew it must be related to the accident and searched his mind for a clue as to what could be wanted of him. He shared a desk on the first floor with Kit Sewell, keeping track of day-to-day storage availability in the company godowns and warehouses scattered around Kowloon and Hong Kong. Both were tightly supervised. Young and junior in ranking this invitation to the buildings highest level had him foxed.

Pushing open the glass panelled door at the head of the staircase, Mark entered a spacious foyer with doors leading off three sides to offices and conference rooms.

"Ah, Ellison. Well done lad. Over here," called one of two shirt-sleeved men standing beside the reception secretary's desk. It was Douglas Pearson, the white haired, fifty-two year old and highly robust head of personnel. Breaking off his conversation with Villiers, the Company vice chairman, he turned towards an open office door, a sheet of paper in one hand the other that beckoned Ellison holding eye glasses.

Mark hurried forward, concealing his delight that Pearson actually knew him by sight. Passing through his secretary's empty office, the head of Personnel led Ellison into his own where the room's two large windows looked out across the harbour to Kowloon. Pointing to a chair he bid the younger man to sit but before he could take his own chair the phone on the desk rang.

"Oh Alice, my dear. I'm terribly sorry for spoiling your Saturday but we have a rather serious development that must be dealt with straight away."

After his opening apologetic explanation to the able and attractive Eurasian telephone operator, Pearson paused to listen then continued, "Splendid. Now has Jack put you in the picture?" Another pause, "Good! Good! Look Alice. I'm aware that placing a call anywhere beyond Canton is a nightmare but it's urgent we get in touch with the Nanking office. All we've had from them is the cablegram giving us little more than the dreadful news. And before we can begin informing relatives we must have firm confirmation of the facts." On replacing the receiver, Pearson remaining standing asked, "Did you have anything planned for the remainder of the weekend?"

"Nothing I can't put aside, Sir" replied Mark who hadn't taken his eyes off the older man since first sitting.

"As you heard, from what I was saying to Alice, we have had some quite upsetting news," began Pearson tossing his glasses on the desk before sitting down. "Because of the bloody Jap war in Shanghai, we had to rush up extra people from the Nanking and Wuhu offices. Regrettably, it seems while on their way in by road, they had an accident apparently resulting in at least one death. Disregarding for now the grief involved, our first priority is the company's continuing function. At the moment there's empty desks in Livingston Offices along half the length of the Yangtze River and you son are off to fill one. I'm sending you up to Hankow."

"Han…Hankow, Sir" stuttered Ellison, sitting Mark upright in his chair. "When?"

"This afternoon."

"This afternoon, Sir" repeated Mark instinctively raising his watch arm up from his lap. It was five minutes past eleven.

"Yes, I know" said Pearson. Noting the shock in the Young employee's eyes, "but we haven't time to delay or be casual about this. Your train to Hankow leaves at five. The next is Monday evening. You will make it, won't you?"

"Yes, of course, Sir. I'm honoured to have been chosen" replied Mark, mystified at what hidden qualities were spotted in him that prompted selection, until informed by Pearson.

"There's no need to feel so tickled. Going through the files, we discovered you were one of the few staff attainable whose inoculations and jabs were up to date. Can't afford you keeling over with cholera in your first concession appointment."

--oOo--

Shortly before five, after the most hectic afternoon of his life, Mark Ellison sat by the window in a first-class train carriage waiting for its journey to begin. Out on the platform his travelling mate, Owen Fairchild, a colleague from Livingston's accounting department stood with his wife saying their goodbyes. Both in their early forties, she would now be alone, the children long since packed off for schooling in England.

Ellison, although keyed up with thoughts of what challenges his new appointment would bring, felt for the first time he could relax. The last five hours he had been in constant motion frantically tying up loose ends, of no importance that morning, desperately adrift by lunch as a result of his imminent departure from Hong Kong. Beginning with a breakneck dash by rickshaw to the bungalow he shared with Kit Sewell and another young company member on the not very chic three hundred foot contour level. In doubt as to the length of time he might be away up country, Mark, in a whirl packed or directed Wang, their fifty-four year old house boy to pack for storaging, all those clothes and possessions he would not be able to take. Scribbling notes of apology for his hurried exit from the colony to friends and those he felt obliged to inform, these and a list of outstanding bills he wished paid, he left with Wang for Kit to see to.

Kit needn't have been sharing the bungalow at all. He left a family house eight hundred feet higher up the peak to move in. But then Kit was that sort. On following his father into Livingston's he was determined to succeed unassisted by family favours, making do with his salary, which was no little loss. His sister had received the Ford convertible from her father as a twenty-first birthday present. A sizable forfeit to consider when comparing Rosina's brand new flash American job to the scrap rescued Vauxhall Cadet he and Mark piddled about in.

Ellison's last few hours on the island, before crossing the harbour once again to catch his train from Kowloon, he spent at his desk in the Livingston building. On leaving, his side of the desk was clear, with everything that needed seeing to as messages resting in Kit Sewell's in-tray.

When the train began to move, Mark watched the tree tops that bordered the station as one by one they ebbed by. Once gone, Owen Fairchild, who had stood at the window waving farewell to his wife, dropped into the seat opposite with a sigh and looseness of posture.

"I say, I didn't expect we would be travelling first class," expressed Mark, attempting to expel the older man's despondency by beginning a conversation. For he was also off to fill one of the vacant posts, given even less notice of leaving than he.

"That's because I booked the tickets" informed Fairchild draping one leg over the opposite knee, his voice trenchant. "I've just left my wife standing on a train platform wiping tears from her eyes. The least the company can do to soften this bloody upheaval is pay a little extra so we may have a night's sleep in a comfortable berth."

As a smile spread across Ellison's face the compartment door was slid open by the carriage porter who stepped back to allow the entry of a tall, lean, ash blond haired man wearing a crumpled white suit. "How do you do gentlemen?" he said, entering to introduce himself, "Tim Hughes an American working for a Chicago newspaper."

Stating names and occupations, each of the carriage occupants stood to shake the newcomer's hand. There were two others besides Ellison and Fairchild, Miles Sugden an army Major with rust coloured hair and red cheeks and a balding Irishman with an expanded waistline who was a purchaser for Butterfield and Swire, Livingston's great rival. With the American taking a seat opposite Ellison, between Fairchild and the civilian dressed Major, the interior lighting came on, followed moments later by their entry into the tunnel that ran beneath Lion Rock.

"I very nearly didn't catch this train" announced the newspaperman. "Had to run like blazes at the clipper jetty to catch a taxi and get here in time."

"You've just flown in from America then?" enquired the Major.

"Not quite," Hughes replied. "I've been the Peiping correspondent for my paper for five years and was due some home leave so last month I booked passage to Seattle and just as we set sail the Japs pulled the Marco Polo Bridge incident. Of course, it's a big story right on my home ground so I sent a radiogram to the paper asking if I could cover it. They said OK but at our first stop, Kobe, the sons of Nippon find out I'm a reporter and won't let me off the ship. Had to sail all the way to Honolu and catch another ship back. It was just a stroke of luck at Manila I got a seat on the Clipper. It was scheduled to fly to Shanghai but when that place flared up as well and the plane had to change its flight plan to Hong Kong, one of the passengers dropped out."

"Are you really intending to go all the way to Peiping?" asked Ellison. He had not followed the warfare in the north too closely but had read after capturing the city, the Japanese now controlled all railways leading into it.

"Not now," replied the American, "Got a telegram from my editor while at Manila. The paper wants me in Shanghai. That's where the news is today."

"Then it looks as if we may be having each other's company for a time. I'm being dispatched there to make some sort of assessment on China's chances of making a fight of it" stated Sugden the English Major.

"So who's going to win?" asked Fairchild of him after a short interruption by a white coated waiter with notepad and pencil taking orders for pre-supper drinks.

"In Shanghai?" mused Sugden, pushing his lips. "Probably the Japs. They took Peiping in one jump. Could very well do the same there."

"Not necessarily. They got a bloody nose when they attacked the Nineteenth Route Army there in 32," reminded Fairchild, who had worked in China with Livingston's since 1921 and kept abreast of most major Chinese happenings.

"Well I for one hope it is the Japs who come out on top," spoke up Leonard Brown the Butterfield and Swire purchases and who after thirty years in the country considered himself an 'old China hand'. "The Chinese have always run the country in a shambolic manner. I found you could never improve anything here until a foreigner took charge. It would probably be good for everyone if the Japs laid a firm hand on things for a while."

"And when they decide to stay longer than a while, who will lay a firm hand on the Japs?" asked Hughes in a sceptical tone.

"I can't see them gaining a long term foothold in China," dismissed Brown, airily, spreading his hands out from his lap. "Europe and America have too many interests here. It would never be allowed to happen."

"That hasn't stood in their way in the past. Korea and Manchuria are Japanese colonies in all but name," pointed out the American before asking "Have any of you gentlemen read the Tamaka Memorial?"

"Not in the full text," admitted Fairchild, pressing tobacco into the bowl of his pipe. Brown and Sugden indicated they might have, while Ellison was more forthright. "I'm afraid not one word. Should I have?"

"Baron Tamaka at the time of writing, back in the 20s, was the Japanese Prime Minister and quite unashamedly laid out how Japan was to infiltrate then dominate China. He called it his 'Blood and Iron policy' and was to begin with the occupation of Manchuria, which in 31 they did. Once in control its resources were to be taken from the hands of the Chinese people, and the country used as a base from which to hold the whip hand over China's trading. Then finally press the whole of China into submission to Japan, by stationing a powerful army on its 'borders'.

Hughes broke off for a moment allowing the returning waiter, bowing each time, to serve their drinks. The sun still high and the carriage hot, all had ordered iced lager, except the Major. He was drinking whiskey and soda.

"I believe I'm safe in saying" continued the American "that all Tamaka wrote, damn near running to a timetable, has come about.

"Well not quite to form old man," ventured Sugden, swirling the whiskey in his glass. "You said the army should pressure the country not attack it."

"That's turned about because of over confidence and loss of patience by the hot bloods of the Kwantung army, Japan's Manchurian based force," explained the journalist, showing anger.

"I'm sure Tokyo won't let the situation get out of hand," speculated the Irishman, Brown, "Wars are expensive."

"The Tokyo government is domineered by militants. It will go along with anything the Kwantung army desires to do. Remember Hamaguchi, Japan's last moderate prime minister, he tried to stem the army and navy's powers within his government and his reward was assassination. Hughes thin, and for a youngish man, lined face had begun to colour.

"You're not too keen on the Japs?" remarked Fairchild raising his glass to his lips.

"Working out of Peiping I was able to travel around Manchuria on the odd trip and what I saw I didn't like. Japan isn't administering the country, they're enslaving it." The American's voice had begun to rise.

In past journeys, soon after supper, the train would have made a halt at Canton's main station. Only now, in the last weeks a loop link had been completed eliminating this stop which saved an hour on the trip north. A dividend lost the next morning when, just south of Changsha an ammunition train following them up from Hong Kong caused theirs to be shunted into a siding, clearing the line for its war priority freight to speed northwards, on route to China's battles.

During this halt, Mark and Hughes, taking a break from sitting stood together in the corridor. Ellison enjoyed the journalist's company and not because of the novelty of speaking to an American he was enthralled with the man's knowledge of the country. The Englishman, while in Hong Kong, more concerned with tea-dances and swimming parties hadn't had the least care about the political and military developments occurring in China, and found his talks with the newsman an enlightenment. "Look there. I wonder who they are." Hughes, flicking the ash of his cigarette out of the open window he was leaning against, had broken off their conversation in mid sentence to watch further down the siding. There Chinese soldiers were emerging from a hilly pine wood that extended down almost to the railway link. Marching in their orderly ranks,, the column followed a dirt cart-track out of the woods, as each company came abreast of the railway one by one they were halted and directed by their officers to fall out on the grass verge. Most sitting, then studied the stationary train and its occupants before them

Ellison for his part stared back just as inquisitive of the soldiers as they were of the train and the white foreigners watching them. Hughes also scanned the ranks of relaxed troops but much more intensely for his interest reached beyond curiosity.

"Can't make em out," confessed the American. "I'm sure they're not Chiang's central government troops. They must be provincials or a war lord's. But I don't know of many of them who would bother to provide their soldiers with helmet and if I'm not mistaken, Czechoslovakian ones at that."

Ellison had not taken all that much notice of the helmets they wore, believing then to be at first glance, of a French pattern.

Determined to learn the identity of the soldiers, Hughes leaned out the train window to call in Chinese to the summer dressed troops in shorts and puttees lounging just beyond the siding's far rails.

The dialect he used was a northern one which perhaps gave reason as to why there was, at first, no response from any of them. However, the man nearest him did understand what had been asked. As a child in north China, Mark, his two sisters and brother attended no proper school in the town in which they lives, for there was none. Their education, until returning to England, was for five years in the hands of their mother. Home was in the company compound of houses and bungalows but few other families had children of their age in accompany, most left behind in Europe for reason of schooling. Being youngsters and when not watched over, it was only natural that he and his brother should seek out other playmates. Repeatedly caught and scolded for being in their company the two lads took up with the boys of a Chinese street gang who romped the river bank and alley ways outside the compound. Not unexpectedly, over the years, picking it up through association, the two English boys found themselves able to converse with their friends in their own language. Because his vocabulary and accent was the tongue of a gutter urchin, Ellison had selected with care whom he spoke Chinese to in Hong Kong. Also to be seen in public chattering away to the locals was at the time looked upon in European circles as bad form; a social black mark.

Getting no response on first asking the soldiers who they were and their destination, Hughes tried again. This time an officer called back, asking "Who is it that takes an interest?"

"A friend of China," replied the American.

Without hesitation the officer gave Hughes his answers. "We are soldiers of the Kwangsi army and are going north to fight the dwarf people."

"Hao! Ding Hao! Ding Hao!" cried the journalist jubilantly giving the officer the thumbs up sign before slapping the window frame to exclaim "That's great news, just great. These guys are from Kwangsi Province on their way to fight the Japs. That means Li Tsung-Jen has joined Chiang Kai-Shek. Now maybe China just might have a chance of winning this war." "Why? Who's Li Tsun… What's his name?" asked Ellison only half catching the name.

"Li Tsung-Jeh. He's the provincial governor of Kwangsi Province" replied Hughes, going on to elaborate. "He and his buddy Pai Ch'ung-his in the last ten years have turned Kwansi into a model province. Prosperous, free of bandits, and do you know you can be arrested in the cities and larger towns for dropping litter?" Can you imagine that, being thrown in the clink for discarding a cigarette packet in the street, in China?"

"But what's so significant about them joining in to fight the Japs," asked Ellison. To him one Chinese province was no different from another.

"Because both Li and Pai are crackerjack generals," explained Hughes. "If Chiang Kai-shek gives them a free command, they'll win battles for him. But I got my doubts of that. Chiang's a funny bastard, mistrusts everybody.

As he spoke the carriage began to move. The munitions train had passed by and they were now renewing their journey. On drawing away, the air began to fill with ash and coal smoke from the engine. Undeterred, as the train glided by, the ranks of reclining Chinese troops, Hughes leaned out of the window giving the thumbs up sign shouting "Kwangsi! Kwangsi! Ding Hao! Ding Hao!"

Mark, infected by the sight and sound of this impromptu display shot a fist out the window, thumb springing upwards, his voice joining the American's, "Ding Hao! Ding Hao!"

Behind them, through the open door of their compartment, Owen Fairchild groaned as he smoked his pipe while Brown and Sugden shifted uneasily in their seats at the deplorable exhibition their two fellow passengers were making of themselves.

In the early evening their train reached the banks of the Yangtze River, where crossing by ferry to Hankow, the five travellers said their goodbyes. Brown was staying the night in Butterfield and Swire accommodation before resuming his journey up river to Ichang, the Yangtze's most distant established treaty port. Hughes and Sugden, sharing a taxi dashed off to catch a connecting train at Hankow railway station, taking then north to the Yellow River then eastward to Nanking and on to Shanghai.

Ellison and Fairchild didn't part until the following afternoon, Mark accompanying the older man to the Livingston Jetty where he was to board a river steamer that would deliver him to Kiukiang, his emergency posting, a hundred miles down river.

With a shake of hands, he left Mark to ponder a point or two of well meaning advice. "This is not Hong Kong, my lad, you are in China now. Don't expect things to happen just because you said they should. More important still, never indebt yourself to a Chinese, whether financially or obligingly. And stay away from Dump Street. The charms of the girls there may, at first glance, appear irresistible, but heed fair warning. In the morning they'll have your money and you'll have their gonorrhoea."

CHAPTER 3
Weapons are ominous tools to be used only when there is no alternative
Sun Tzu
500BC

The line of men in front of Han Chih stopped again as it had done so many times since leaving the train that had brought them to this place. It was night but ahead the sky was alight with fires and flashes from explosions, blending with other sounds of big guns and distant cracking of rifle and machine-gun fire. Chih was a soldier now, about to enter battle.

He did not find sister that day he left his village to search for her. Only the railway and a train with soldiers but these were Chinese soldiers from the south, who, on discovering the track ahead damaged, preparing to retreat. Ignored by them, Chih approached a cluster of men wearing the dress of townsmen, farmers and common labourers, who stood beside one of the open-doored shed like train boxes. Weak and faint from his head wound he asked of them, "Please good gentlemen, I am looking for a sister who has been taken by soldiers with helmets, Japanese soldiers I have been told. Is it my fortune you have seen them?"

His question was greeted with sarcastic laughter and deridement, except from a slight young man in a soiled blue gown who stepped forward to ask, "You have seen these dwarf soldiers?"

"They came to my village, killed, they have sister." Closing his eyes, lightly touching his head wound that throbbed intensely, Chih sank to his knees. Overcome with increasing dizziness he was forced forward onto his arms, before collapsing unconscious. "Like us farmer you have suffered loss," surmised the gowned man looking down, but offering no immediate assistance.

"This makes you and I brothers, and as brothers we shall seek revenge."

Chih awoke some hours later. It was dark, there was a constant clatter of metal noise, air whirled about him and the planking he lay on vibrated. Raising his head to look around he could see through a large doorway, moonlight countryside in motion. He was on the train amongst sleeping men, his head wound wrapped with a cloth. Confused and weakened, without strength even to stand, his destiny no longer his to control, torn from him as if a tree leaf in the wind, he surrendered again to slumber.

As the line of men ahead began once more to move, Chih reached down to clutch a handful of earth from the field they were crossing working it between his fingers he raised the hand to his nose; By its smell he knew this was not the loess he had tilled in the north. No, this soil moist, dark, blessed in richness of crop growth, was deposited there centuries beforehand by the floods of the mighty Yangtze River, on this its southern delta. And the noise of war ahead was coming from China's international metropolis, Shanghai.

That information was not learned from those whose duty it was to tell him, the important ones they call officers. For in this army to be told things by those in charge was not, he was finding, a done practice. No, like everything over the past weeks it was Teng Chung-ho of the blue gown who told him of their destination. Just as, on leaving the first train after two days of travelling and being taken to a hutted compound,, where they were fed then allotted a small space on a straw covered floor, it was he who told him why; they were to be trained as soldiers.

With little choice otherwise, Chih accepted his abduction but found the treatment of soldiers mystifying. Each morning sergeants and corporals would appear, driving them from their huts with screams, shouted orders and blows from the bamboo staves that each one carried. They would then begin bulling and beating them into learning how to march and drill with wooden poles for rifles, in uniforms old and previously worn by others. Finally after three weeks, having never handled any sort of firearm, they were put once again on a train and carried for a night and a day to this place.

Eventually, the reason for the slowness of the line's progress was revealed. Ahead, the men were being split into groups and given loads to carry. Wicker baskets with shoulder straps filled with ammunition, grenades and for each group of ten men, one basket containing cooked rice, a food Chih, as a northerner, found loathsome.

"Ho!" exclaimed Chung-hou shouldering his load, "so at last it has proved true. Father always warned I was only fit for collie work."

Chih glanced at his comrade, a man whom he knew to be educated but for some reason pretended illiteracy, witnessing again his now familiar grin.

Resuming their trek, fields and farm villages were soon left, replaced by cobbled streets and town houses. Hours began to pass in which no rest stop was given, just halts for the exchange of guides, new directions taken, or obstructions bypassed. Approaching the city's main perimeter they began following a paved road with houses, shops and stalls close each side. At one point in their march they were led down a long tree-lined boulevard of rich men's' homes set back behind metal railed fences, each house surrounded by large gardened grounds. Everywhere along their route signs of warfare stood out, buildings crumbled and burnt, rubble filling streets, craters of all sizes and fires that raged unattended.

During one of their many pauses, taking notice of his surroundings, Chih found monster buildings towering above him. Following in single file, concentrating on sureness of foot and not becoming separated from the basket carrier in front, the column of soldiers had, with no prior hint, gained the outskirts of one of Shanghai's central districts. On moving once more Chih's party of ten were parted from the others. All along the march, at varied points, although not told of its occurrence portion by portion, the line fragmented each smaller group taken away to different destinations.

"Hurry! Hurry! It will be dawn soon. We must hurry."

A youth in uniform with a pointed crown felt hat had become their new guide. Kneeling beside a hole in the side of one of the taller brick buildings, he was beckoning the soldiers to follow him through. Behind him Chih heard Chung-hou chuckle a comment he didn't comprehend the meaning of. "Boy Scouts! We are being led to war by Boy Scouts."

Inside the building darkness was total, the youth steering his charges through the broken walled, brick strewn rooms by having them take a hold of each man in front. They emerged onto a road that paralleled a small river. The opposite bank was similar to the one they stood on, another road built above the river with more streets of even taller buildings leading from it. In the distance fires burned giving an artificial light that reflected down from the night sky's low cloud. Deeper in the city war sounds were still heard, rifle fire and explosions but not as intense as earlier in the night. With the sun soon to light another day, for some unknown reason a lull in the fighting had settled over the war areas.

The youth, pausing just long enough to count his ten men, again set off with the now repetitive command of, "Hurry! Hurry!"

Stopping them beside the river, half a street length from an iron girdered bridge, he crouched down to listen. Chih crouching with him glanced down into the river. Its surface, oily black in the reflected firelight, showed no sign of flow, both edges carpeted with debris, floating rubbish and bloated bodies. From far away guns fired, four times in three second intervals. Which was shortly followed by a scream falling from the sky. Its sound to Chih like that of Chen-liu's cart horse neighing but many times shriller. As it increased their guide stood to look in the direction of the sound. This ended abruptly with an explosion perhaps one Li to the north, replaced instantly with a second screaming the same as the first. Taking this as his signal the guide began walking briskly towards the bridge, calling over his shoulder, "Hurry! Hurry!"

To reach the bridge they had to struggle over mounds of earth, stones and around craters. On beginning to cross they discovered more damage to the bridge itself. Metal girders parted and twisted with their jagged ends pointing off at opposing angles. Weaving their way around gaping holes in the road-bed, the four guns were again heard to fire.

"Run! Run!" shouted the youth standing back to wave the men on with frenzied gestures.

"Chih was the first to leave the bridge, falling into a crater as the first scream in the air began. Hauling himself out on hands and knees he turned instinctively at the sound of an explosion, seeing a plume of water rising from the river. A second scream and another plume of water followed by a third scream. This time the explosion was on the bridge, the blast of which caused the big man to fall backwards seeing as he fell a bright orange flash, which for a brief moment illuminated a man and his basket as they were lifted into the air and thrown outwards into the river. A fourth scream ended its journey with the first two, in the river on the other side of the bridge. From that third shell, the fragments of steel that had whistled through the air now lay harmlessly smouldering. The screaming however continued, a human scream. The man blown into the river was the second from last in the party; the last was the one screaming, bathed in his own blood from fatal lacerations to his chest and abdomen.

"Come! Come!" ordered the guide pulling one man to his feet from where, like most, he had flattened himself in terror. "We must go. We are not to bother with the one in pain. He will be looked after by others."

"What others? Who is there to come here?" questioned Chung-hou, in breathless gasps, his comment directed at shadows.

Of the survivors clambering from holes and over mounds of wreckage, none replied, not even Chih who stood nearest. Apparently unaffected by fear he turned to follow the young guide; an assumption falsely made. Beneath his breast a heart pounded with wild ferocity. This place, the darkness, the fires, the noise, explosions, screams, men dying, he was a simple farmer and could not help but believe he was being taken into a habitat of demons.

Trudging on, the weight of their baskets causing straps to bruise shoulders, backs to bend, heads go down. Through a cemetery, over a street with metal rails running down its middle, then once across destroyed land that was formerly a pleasure garden they and the youth parted company, his work for the night done. "Goodbye soldiers. Fight well."

A soldier carrying a rifle now replaced him as a guide, taking them along another street and into one of its stone and brick buildings. There he left them in a large ground floor room where a voice from the dark spoke up, "Put your loads down comrades and rest."

The eight newcomers, thankful for the opportunity to release their burdens, sank down on the concrete floor. Chih, his head resting on the basket he had carried, closed his eyes in search of sleep but an event filled mind would not immediately let him. Near a large hole in one wall, two men were in conversation, one Chung-hou the other, the owner of the voice that had greeted their arrival.

Wakening with a start, his head having slipped from the basket, Chih slowly looked around the room. He had dozed and momentarily was at a loss to his surroundings. A new dawn was lighting outside, providing a weak glow in the room by which he was able to see. The room, high roofed, was empty except for those who had newly arrived and the one by the wall hole who laid rifle in hand, watching out, down a broad street. In a corner was a table with odd chairs and stools, while against the walls were small piles of personal belongings, articles of clothing, dirt soiled blankets, eating bowls and bits of soldier's equipment. The floor itself was filthy thick with dirt, plaster dust and litter.

Chung-hou sitting near and seeing Chih awake began to talk.

"We are with provincial soldiers from Fukien Province. They were a pirate suppression force but are now an army brigade. No number, just a name, Pointed Sword.

Chih, the farmer, didn't understand this very much, a soldier for only a few weeks his reply to the information was merely a nod of his head.

Outside as the light increased so to was there a build up of noise; rifle fire, machine guns, the boom of artillery and the explosions of their shells. The sentry by the wall, who it now appears was suffering a leg wound, shifted his body from the gap. In the street figures could be seen running from the direction of the battle noise. Then in ones and twos men began bursting into the room through the wall hole. Cursing, drawing gulps of breath, perspiration running down faces, they collapsed on the floor or against walls. Some stood remonstrating in harsh voices, fists being raised towards the gunfire. Their dress, an assorted collection of ragged, bloodstained uniforms, while the weapons carried were a mishmash of rifles, pistols and swords.

One man, young, tall, slightly round-shouldered with a rifle slung over his back and two swords tucked through a waist belt sauntered in holding out for the sentry, a pair of human ears, one in each hand.

"Look what I have brought for you Corporal Li. Dwarf ears, an officers" he announced smiling impishly as he stopped to drop the twin items of bloody flesh beside the corporal.

"You will always be a pirate cutthroat, Little Feet, never a soldier" retorted the sentry bushing the ears away.

"He once had a sword" declared Little Feet with a laugh removing the two swords from his belt to discard the first. Drawing the other, a two handed one from its scabbard he began a dance, slashing the air with it and crying, "Ha! Ha! Look! Look! I have it now and you have his ears and soon the emperor of Japan will have his ashes."

"Stand aside sheep's son" ordered someone entering through the wall, pushing Little Feet away to allow a wounded man, assisted by two others into the room.

Of medium height and build, in his mid or late thirties, cropped hair beginning to grey, he immediately took command of the room. Seeing the wounded one placed down, he called for all spare or captured weapons to be put by the table.

"Ah! Supplies! He exclaimed seeing the baskets and going to each, examining their contents.

"The rice; where is the rice?" he demanded. His voice in control of an anger his eyes made no attempt to hide, acknowledging for the first time the basket carrier's presence, by glaring from one to the other.

"At the bottom of Soochow Creek honoured Sergeant; with the unfortunate one who was carrying it." Answered Chung-hou snapping his limbs to attention having distinguished the sergeant's rank by the two triangular stars embossed on the infantry designation badge sewn above the breast pocket of his shirt. He and Chih, when the sergeant began his search of the baskets, had stood, stepping back from their loads of the night.

With narrowed eyes the sergeant studied Chung-hou's face. Because of his native Shanghai accent, unblemished features that showed no trace of past physical labour and the directness of the reply, he suspected him of indulging in cheekiness.

"What is your name and what was your work before the army claimed you?" asked the sergeant, his eyes still narrowed.

"Teng Chung-hou, flower seller sergeant" came the reply.

"Loyal Monkey. Your father named you Loyal Monkey" mocked the NCO before addressing Chih. "And you big one. Name! Work!"

"Han Chih honoured sergeant, farmer" his reply nothing like as snappy as Chung-hou's.

"Farmers, flower sellers" scoffed the sergeant before raising his voice to address all the new ones. "We are Pointed Sword, sea fighters. I am Sergeant Ch'e To-kung and you will learn to kill the dwarfs as we do."

In stride to say more he was halted from doing so by others entering through the rooms only door leading from the building's interior. A captain wearing a peaked cap and leather belt with a pistol holster, his uniform pale green and although of new material, was dirty and torn. Following behind came a boy of perhaps fourteen, on a cord slung over one shoulder dangled a brass bugle stained black, while around his neck on a length of rope hung a Mauser's automatic pistol.

"Losses Sergeant. How many?" asked the officer in a stern voice. Although not spoken harshly it was plain the questioner expected a thorough answer.

"One dead, two missing, one wounded, Captain" replied Sergeant Ch'e straightening as he turned to face the officer.

Behind the captain the one called Little Feet shook his head while drawing a hand across his throat before holding up two fingers.

Ch's seeing this sign amended his report, "I am mistaken Captain, two dead."

The officer offering no reply began a visual inspection of the soldiers as they lounged or busied themselves with weapons and equipment.

"New recruits," said sergeant Ch'e seeing the captain's eyes come to rest on Chih. "They brought supplies in the night. Ammunition, no rice."

"No good to us. These cartridges won't fit dwarf rifles" declared the captain examining the basket's contents, selecting several bullets to check their calibre. Then, after advising the sergeant to see the wounded man was taken away for attention the ammunition carried to battalion headquarters and six of the new soldiers sent to other platoons he, with the young bugle boy, left the way they had come.

"Sergeant! Have I your permission to ask a question?" This from Chung-hou who with Chih were the two recruits that remained.

"Is the respected captain our superior?" he asked on granted to do so.

"Captain Pai, unworthy flower peddler, is your company commander, graduate of Military Academy. And I am your platoon commander, second platoon, fourth company, first battalion, first regiment, Point Sword Brigade."

Second class soldier Teng received his answer from the sergeant as if a naughty schoolboy being scolded. And although standing to attention, his face a blank expression, understood all of it.

For Han Chih it was a different matter. To him the ladder of unit structure and their titles may as well have been a foreign language. At that moment though he was given no time to ponder his ignorance. From the sky above them an approaching droning sound had changed its pitch, building for a time to a scream that suddenly switched again to that of rapid purring, but loud.

Without a word of command given everyone in the room threw themselves down at the foot of the room's walls. A high shrill whistle, seemingly falling towards their building, now drowned out all other sounds. Whereupon, its journey incomplete, the ground and building was violently shaken by a massive explosion somewhere behind them that caused puffs of dust to spring from the walls and ceiling. Chih and Chung-hou, caught by this standing, both dropped to the floor in shock. While they recovered themselves, sitting, coughing dust from their throat the others rose from the walls to carry on with whatever it was they were doing before the explosion. Some laughed, others joked about Japanese pilot's bad bombing, or their own invincibility. A number, like the two new men, did show worry, one of the platoon remaining against the wall, head buried on drawn up knees, whimpering.

The Japanese dive-bomber delivering that bomb which landed so close was only the first to arrive. All day long from dawn until sunset they would be coming, singly and in groups to unload their explosives onto random targets throughout those parts of Shanghai city held by the Chinese Army. Attacks not just confined to the air. Seldom were their artillery guns silent, while everywhere around the Chinese defensive perimeters, fire fights were constant as the Japanese probed, sniped and mounted full scale local attacks. In this particular sector the Pointed Sword Brigade were holding a reserve position behind the forward line from where, soldiers Han and Teng soon learned, were called upon to fight only at night.

As the morning progressed it became apparent to the two new members of 2 platoon that no concern for their wants would be forthcoming. No food was offered to them, what little there was to be seen, the soldiers themselves produced from pockets or out of assorted tins taken from haversacks most carried when they had returned that morning.

Suffering a thirst that had begun many hours before, Chung-hou was compelled to ask the nearest soldier where water could be found. Told they should look for it in the depths of the building, they made their way through other rooms occupied by more soldiers until finding a metal tap, a strange device to Chih that poured water into a trough. Drinking their fill they returned to be told by Sergeant Ch'e that they should sleep.

Having not been able to do so for a full day and a half, complying shouldn't have been any trouble. However, counter to most others in the room Chih and Chung-ho found this impossible. For them complete slumber never came. Dozing in snatches, they were constantly wrenched back to full wakefulness, eyes wide with terror as a bomb or artillery shell exploded on or near their building, a discomfort that was not theirs alone to share.

Most of those in the room slept as if in a peaceful meadow, others though were showing the strain of enduring past week of constant daylight bombardment. The one with his head on his knees would begin to shake whenever an explosion sounded, the nearer it was the more violently he shook. Another cried out in his sleep each time there was a loud blast. While one young soldier would repeatedly jump to his feet to run around the room begging his ancestors for their forgiveness of some unmentioned sin.

With the approach of evening, the light outside beginning to mellow, Sergeant Ch'e circled the room kicking awake those not already stirred. Sending some off with pots and small baskets, he barked orders to the others to prepare themselves for another night's work. The one called Little Feet rose clasping one hand to his crutch, holding under the material of his trousers an erection that had formed while asleep. "Oh little feet! You women with little feet. How I wish I had one of you now, so I could bury this in your jade gate." Around him ammunition was being given out and pushed into pouches or pockets, pistol magazines examined and filled, swords checked for ease of drawing from scabbards. Personal belongings in readiness for departure were stowed against walls.

Corporal Li, limping to a table propped himself upon it, taking the weight off his wounded leg, called Chih and Chung-hou to him. Having arrived with no weapons, they were about to be armed. A sword each was thrust at them and shown how to strap it to their bodies. Chih was given a 'big sword'. Long and narrow with a D-shaped iron hand guard at the handle. Chung-hou was handed a broader one with a curved blade. Both were mounted down the back with handles positioned behind their heads for simplicity of drawing.

While accustoming themselves to this new weight, those sent off with the pots and small baskets returned; cooked rice with chopped cabbage sparsely added filling the baskets, while warm water that only hinted of a vegetable flavour was in the pots. Pressing around these, the platoon jostled one another as they plucked handfuls of rice from the baskets. Ravished, Chih and Chung-ho didn't hesitate to join in, pushing forward with outstretched arms, snatching at the cooked grain.

Devouring from his hands like a wolf the first food he had eaten for almost two days, Chih heard Sergeant Ch'e call out to him, "You! Big farmer! Come here!"

On stepping forward, the sergeant held up for him to slip on a canvas vest with several pouch pockets sewn to its front.

"For tonight's work you will stay with me" informed Ch'e taking from a basket at his feet, grenades, slotting them, one by one into the vest pockets.

"Do you know what it is you are to carry?" Chih looking at one of the metal objects fixed to a wooden handle shook his head. "They are grenades Big One. They are for blowing up dwarfs. Each time I throw one, you will give me another."

With night fast nearing there was an increase in artillery fire, shells being aimed well to their rear. During the following period of waiting most of the platoon sat, some suffering pre-battle tension walked back and fourth, one prancing on the spot growled to himself as he did so. The youth with his head on his knees was now up, standing alone talking to himself. One outwardly unaffected was Little Feet, he stood smiling to himself his new sword drawn, flicking the point of the blade at dirt at his feet. Another, missing an eye, thick bodied, shaved head, sword balanced across his lap, sat straight-backed on a stool, face an expressionless stare, a man withdrawn into his own private oasis of calm.

Once darkness had overcome the room, Sergeant Ch'e led his platoon through the wall hole into the street. Corporal Li who had acted during daylight as the platoon sentry now withdrew himself into a corner to take sleep.

In the street awaiting them was a small group of men, Captain Pai and his HQ element, one of these, Shih Hi-gih, the company bugler. Soon joined by other platoons, silently leaving the building from other exits, the captain, confirming in the receding twilight of all four's presence, turned, stepping off at their head. Spilling out from buildings on each side of the street, more platoons assembled into companies until six hundred or more men of the 1st Battalion, 1st Regiment were trailing back in loose formations along the street.

With cat-like steps, their footwear sandaled or thick cloth slippers, they followed the street for several minutes before turning down a much narrower one. Here the shops and living quarters above were burnt shells or abandoned. At a junction, in single file 2 platoon entered a shop to their right, another platoon going to the left. A shop board reading, 'Heavenly Abode of Fine Silk', hanging by a single wire across the doorway caused each man to duck under as they followed one another in. Moving silently, only whispering when having to talk, they felt their way to the rear of the shop then across two courtyards and into the ground floor of another building. In the first courtyard lay wounded being cared for by girls.

Chih, warned again by Ch'e not to leave his side for the duration of the night, accompanied the sergeant as he was taken by a guide through this second building. Creeping from it to a bank of earth spoil and rubble heaped across the street, he remained kneeling a short distance behind as the platoon commander conferred with an officer. Both peering from concealment, spying out buildings further along the street. Returning and gathering his platoon, the sergeant led them back to the banking, stationing them along it.

This, Chih was told in a low voice was the forward battle line which they would soon cross.

By now it was full night, late September with no moon; Cloud blotted out much of the starlight but this had little restriction on visibility. Fires were burning throughout the city, one quite near exposing areas that Ch'e's men, on other nights, used for covering their movements. Since the sun had set small arms fire had eased off, targets no longer detectable to the eye. Now in small separate outbursts it was again beginning to flare. With few war planes, very little artillery and no means of providing an intricate central communication system extending to the lower formations, the Chinese commanders had no option but to stake their offensive strategy on the soldiers' individual thirst for battle. Sending them in under cover of night to fight the Japanese among Shanghai's mounting ruination on a more equal footing, hand to hand.

Sergeant Ch'e, his ear cocked to the sounds around him was waiting. He and his men were to attack a Japanese strongpoint not far along the street that was, with untactful persistency, defended in the same manner each night. Constrained by an unquestioning obedience to orders, Japanese soldiers, even when knowing them to be wrong, wouldn't dare, on their own initiative defy or ignore them.

Even so although 2 platoon knew the whereabouts of their enemy, they also knew the Chinese were coming. Well to his left figures suddenly began a rush across the street, whereupon from the position they were to attack a machine gun began to fire tracer bullets, their path at first straight, then striking a hard surface skimmed off at all angles.

This was the advantage he had waited for, with a muffled cry to his men, Ch'e leapt over the protective mound. Scrambling after him Chih raced to stay in contact. Hardly noticing the rifle fire being directed at them, he halted behind his sergeant who had stopped besides the building from which the machine gun was firing. Uncapping a grenade, exposing a string, he pulled it causing a pop accompanied by a whiff of smoke. Throwing the grenade through what may have once been a window he squatted down pulling Chih with him.

"Grenade Farmer! Grenade!" he ordered putting out a hand while looking around to see what was happening with the rest of his men.

As Chih placed a second grenade in his sergeant's hand, the first went off causing a human scream. When the second, following the first also exploded he was brushed aside as men rushed to enter the building. His mind in turmoil, Chih nonetheless remained loyal to Ch'e's order. Righting himself he followed him through a smashed doorway.

"Sergeant Ch'e! Sergeant Ch'e!" he shouted thrusting another grenade into the NCO's hand as he stopped below a wide staircase. Throughout the building there was an eruption of shooting, screams, curses and explosions.

"This way Farmer," called Ch'e as others ran up the stairs, he made off down a passageway that brought them into a large factory floor. A machine shop, it was partitioned with rows of high, mostly empty, wooden racking. Through the far wall that had largely collapsed, a distant fire was giving the room lighting.

Throughout its length and breadth life and death encounters were taking place. In games of hide and seek the Japanese were waging a fighting retreat, firing their rifles as they slipped away, while 2 platoon, pressing them countered with pistols, grenades and when the opportunity was presented, swords. Ch'e avoiding the main floor began working his way down its left side where doors gave access to offices and storerooms. From one of these doorways a rifle was firing at the Chinese flank. Boldly advancing from an angle the sergeant forced the rifleman to withdraw by squeezing off repeated pistol shots. Reaching the door he threw in a grenade, waiting for it to explode before entering. Chih following a few paces behind, watched, unable to stop the sudden assault, as a rifle barrel, cutting downward from behind the door struck Ch'e on the back of a shoulder. With his victim collapsed on his knees, the Japanese soldier, taking a step forward, was already drawing the bayoneted rifle back to administer a killing thrust. In this instant, Chih seen again that first Japanese soldier at his village when he too was about to kill in a similar way. To him, now, it was the same bayonet, the same helmet, the same man.

Shrieking an avenging cry he lunged for the Japanese grasping his throat. Dropping the trapped rifle to defend himself the enemy soldier flailed his fists at his assailant but these fell short of Chih's head. Almost a foot taller than the Japanese, he held him at arm's length, his back pressed against the wall, feet off the floor kicking air a death stare appearing in the Imperial soldier's eyes. Intent on execution by strangulation, Chih watched the eyes suddenly widen then glaze. Ch'e had just plunged the soldier's own bayonet through his upper rib cage and into the heart.

"Next time Big Farmer, use your sword." Chide the sergeant removing the bayonet from the rifle before slinging it over Chih's back. As he did so the dead soldier fell from the farmer's grasp. Bending over him Ch'e pulled free a haversack the dead man carried, draping that around Chih's neck, tugging in the same movement from the big man's vest, another grenade. "Come Farmer. We have only begun."

Denied time to reflect on why he had, just moments earlier, been seized by such an overwhelming desire to kill, Chih hurried after his sergeant.

Out on the machinery floor fighting was still continuing. Two platoon however had the upper hand and were forcing a conclusion. Driving the Japanese back, they were fleeing through the broken wall. Hesitating not one step, the former Fukien pirate hunters kept on the enemy's heels, pursuing them across the street and into other buildings. As Chih and his sergeant were themselves about to follow over the pile of bricks that was once the wall, from the floor above a number of shots rang out accompanied by the Chinese battle cry, "Sarr! Sarr! Kill! Kill!"

Mingled with this was the clatter and scraping of Japanese hobnailed army boots and a sound that Chih could only compare to that of the squealing of pigs.

Turning about both looked up to the floor above their heads which had broken back almost a quarter the length of the room. Hardly had the two trained their eyes on this when Japanese soldiers appeared on the edge. Not faltering a step they leapt one after another onto a row of racking from where each swung or fell to the floor.

"Your sword Farmer. Use your sword." Ch'e's shout was given as he raised his pistol to fire at an enemy only a few arm's lengths from him. The Japanese in a blinding rush to escape from the level above found sergeant Ch'e and second class soldier Han blocking their path.

After two shots the pistol ceased firing, empty. Ch'e flinging it aside charged forward swinging the grenade he held as if a cudgel. With his first blow, striking the helmet of a Japanese he had wounded with his pistol, the explosive cylinder broke from its handle. Weapon-less, Ch'e grappled his enemy to the floor. Jumping from the racking, rifle in one hand, another Japanese landed beside them. Whether his intention was to intervene in the struggle or continue to bolt, neither choice was given him. A two handed slash from Chih's sword drove him back against the racking a deep gash at his neck, the collar bone broken. Screaming he sank to the floor clutching his wound. Lifting his sword to deliver another blow, Chih flinched as a shot, fired at close quarter, brushed an arm.

Ducking away from the Japanese on the other side of the racking who was taking a second aim he collided with a fourth Japanese just dropping down. Regaining his feet he spun around just in time to parry with his sword a bayonet lunge from yet another. Bringing his blade back quickly he did the same again this time deflecting an attack from the other he had first collided with. Then Swinging his sword at first one then the other, favoured with size and a powerful arm he forced them back against a piece of machinery, a lathe. Kept having to jab with their bayonets in defence, neither gained the opportunity to re-cock and fire their rifle; for the briefest of seconds the three were ensnared in a frenzied stalemate, that ending unexpectedly with the decapitation of one of Chih's combatants. The other in a wild thrust presented the big man with an open side, into which he drove his sword and twice more as the helmeted soldier fell backwards onto the lathe. With a death scream fading from the Japanese's lips, Chih turned, his eyes sweeping over the others headless body, to see Little Feet pushing his newly acquired sword into the chest of the Japanese soldier Sergeant Ch'e was still struggling with on the floor.

Showing the agility of a tree monkey, in his pursuit of the enemy from the floor above, it was he who on leaping down from the racking and had with a single sword swipe, taken the head off the first of Chih's pair of adversaries. Then turning his attention to the half dead Japanese soldier who Chih had slashed down, breaking his collar bone, he was also dispatched, pitilessly run through.

Chih, sword raised in expectation of further attacks, spun about his head bobbing and ducking, eyes alert for hidden or charging enemies. From behind a row of machinery one broke his concealment. Intent on escaping out the fallen wall, Chih vaulted after him to be brought up sharp by his haversack strap snaring on an arm of jutting iron.

Tugging himself free he turned to resume the chase, in time to see his quarry, on reaching the crest of brick debris, throw his arms in the air and sprawl face down on the rubble. Looking in the direction a single shot was fired from, Chih seen Chung-hou, rifle in hand cock the bolt ejecting a spent cartridge. Then slinging it over his back, followed the platoon member with only one eye off the broken lip of the floor above onto a frame of racking, and down to the machinery shop floor.

Sergeant Ch'e recovering his pistol hadn't seen who fired, sparing him having to contemplate how it was a flower seller could manipulate, aim and fire a rifle so accurately. Whereas Chih on witnessing the act felt not a sliver of puzzlement, such wonders from this man he now accepted as common place.

Throughout the night this pattern of fighting engaged in by 2 Platoon was much the same as elsewhere in the city. The Chinese, using the dark, would filter across streets and into buildings defended by the Japanese, attack, then hunt them down as they retreated through shops, commercial establishments and other war struck dwellings now destroyed or burnt out. The route taken by those in flight easily detected from the clatter of their iron shod boots and the pig-like squeals of fear that apparently they were powerless to suppress. A fear justified, well aware of the mutilation awaiting each one from Chinese swordsmen falling upon them out of the dark.

Street by street the Chinese advanced overcoming or outflanking whatever strongpoint the Japanese attempted to defend. Chih, completely at a loss as to his whereabouts in the dark and war wasted surroundings, spent as much attention on keeping in touch with his comrades as he did watching out for the enemy. Twice more he was involved in skirmishes; an alleyway where Sergeant Ch'e used the last of their grenades and a running fight through a tall and once luxurious hotel. On the conclusion of this last engagement, adding fresh blood to his sword blade, he followed others of the platoon out the lobby entrance only to be brought to a halt on the hotel's wide, marbled steps.

Transfixed he stood staring to his right at a riverbank district perhaps two li from him ablaze in light. High buildings like beacons glowed as if with a lantern placed in every window. At ground level neon signs flashed names or business titles in a blur of coloured sequences. Extending for what to Chih was an unbelievable distance along a modern constructed stone riverbank, was a broad embankment, the lighting for which also illuminating wharfs and piers projecting into the river.

"That is the foreigners' zone" spoke a voice beside him, Chung-hou. "The Bund and all you see beyond belongs to them. They are neutral and live safe knowing we and the dwarfs would not dare fire our guns at them."

Mesmerised by the brilliance of such undreamt of colours, Chih continued to gawk, understanding nothing of what his comrade had said. Shaken loose from his gaze only when a warning was shouted by him. Run Chih! Run!"

Sensing no immediate danger, Chih remained still looking about him. The hotel was also on the river edge facing a street with wharfs that jutted into the water. On the river well over one li in width, its far shore indistinguishable, he could just make out the dim shapes of vessels at anchor in midstream. Then from the left, gliding dangerously inshore, his eyes detected a massive black silhouette coming into view from behind a high waterfront warehouse. Thunderstruck at seeing something so enormous floating on water, Chih stared transfixed, unaware of running figures around him.

"Flee! Flee!" cried Chung-hou pulling his arm causing the big man to take a sidestep. A movement that became a bound when a crushing explosion and flash of fire erupted from the blackened profile on the river. In the same eye blink, part of the building to their left crumbled into the street as the shell the Japanese naval destroyer had just fired exploded on its front.

Blown on their faces, Chih and Chung-hou lay sprawled while particles of stone, brick and glass rained around them.

"This way Chih. Run!" called Chung-hou springing up to dash to his right, away from the warship. The two men just gaining the shelter of a side street as a second shell was fired, this time at the hotel. Skirting heaps of fallen masonry, the distance of their flight was judged not by them but by others also escaping the Japanese navy's point blank shell fire. Keeping at their heels until reaching a junction where they were motioned to halt by a party commanded by Captain Pai. Turning to look back towards the riverfront where shells were still being fired, Chih saw a figure outlined in the gun flashes, sword in hand, waving his arms, taunting the gunners with a jaunty, carefree dance.

"What soldiers these Pointed Sword are?" observed Chung-hou. "We have driven the dwarfs all the way from Chapel to Hongkew on the banks of the Whangpoo River in one night."

Chih heard but didn't reply. Absorbed in watching the profiled figure cavorting with death. Who, reluctantly was made to cease his antics by another joining him from the river street. The two then trotted together away from the shelling. Not until they had reached the street junction was Chih able to recognise who these last two withdrawing from the river shore were. As Sergeant Ch'e continued past, intent on reporting to the captain, Little Feet, stopped before Chih and Chung-hou resting the sword he had been teasing the Japanese warship with, over one shoulder.

"You had fun tonight eh?" he asked the two novice soldiers. "These dwarf soldiers they run too fast. When we first began to fight here the enemy were sea soldiers like us, marines. They run not so quick. We had good fights then."

Captain Pai, after a short consultation with a small number of men who had gathered around him, held up a pocket watch to check the time. Within moments the group dispersed. One, Sergeant Ch'e, pistol in hand, called his men out of the darkened recesses they had taken concealment in, setting them off in controlled retreat.

In disregard of the possible danger of attack from pockets of Japanese bypassed during their advance, the Chinese cantered back through streets they had so recently battled hand to hand for. Chung-hou unclear as to the reason for this withdrawal asked of the man running nearest him, "Why brother are we leaving what we have captured?"

"At night we are strong," replied one-eye taking his time in answering. "In daylight dwarfs bring up reinforcements. When they see us they attack with gunboats, aeroplanes, artillery. Their soldiers drive us away with machine guns and mortar bombs. It is stupid to stay. We come back at night with swords."

At a major street crossing its surface heavily cratered, a tramcar lay derailed on its side, the rail tracks raised and twisted by blast. In the centre of the junction a party of men watched as the soldiers moved through. One of these detached from the rest was exchanging banter with some of those passing. Hatless, showing a shaven head, tall for a southerner, at first glance because of his broad shoulders and rounded body, mistaken by Chung-hou as stocky.

"Ah Helmsman," he called out to Sergeant Ch'e as the NCO brought his men across the cratered junction. "How many dwarf mothers have you and your band given cause for lamenting their sons spawning?"

"A number that grows greater each night my commander," replied Ch'e stopping briefly to stand to attention.

"Splendid! Splendid!" acknowledged the commander raising a drawn sword he gripped in one hand. "Soon their tears will drown their land."

"This commander, he is a high officer?" asked Chung-hou of one-eye as they were leaving the street crossing.

"He is Wild Sea. Colonel Lung who commands Pointed Sword. Famed pirate catcher and brave as a tiger" informed one-eye, turning to thump a fist on his chest, confessing "I was once a pirate before being captured by Wild Sea and his men and sent to prison. Then one day he came to the prison and asked who would join with him to fight the dwarf invaders."

At first not recognising it, Chih followed others over the barricade of rubble from where they had launched their initial attack. Pausing only long enough to boast of their night's deeds to the soldiers who were soon to face another day of Japanese probing attacks, 4 Company retraced their steps back through the streets to the building that was their daytime refuge.

One of the last to enter through the holed wall, Chih found 2 Platoon enacting again the scene of the previous morning. Breathless, dirty, cursing and gesturing, some had dropped against the walls to rest while others stood debating frays of the night. Sergeant Ch'e was in one corner kneeling over Corporal Li, pondering his condition with a dispassionate gaze. His leg wound, septic for a number of days, had worsened during the night, causing a high temperature and fits of delirium. Sitting against a wall with a basket at his side, his legs straight to his front, was a uniformed youth, a lowered jaw proclaiming bemusement at the upheaval going on around him.

On approaching Chung-hou, Chih could see by the early dawn light, fresh blood splats on his shirt. Before drawing his comrades' attention to this, he examined his own hands and clothes finding them also covered with the enemy's blood. Tired and hungry, both men, after on Sergeant Ch'e's request, giving up a rifle each, went to refresh themselves at the water tape. On returning they scavenged the haversacks each had returned with, finding and sharing three balls of rice and a small tin of fish preserved in oil. When Captain Pai paid his morning visit, Sergeant Ch'e reported one dead.

Who this latest casualty was, Chih had no idea. Not until the evening when being awaken by Ch'e, after sleeping soundly through the day's air bombing and artillery shelling he noticed the absence of the young soldier who the day before had sat with his head on his knees. Little Feet again on raising was once more clutching a stiffness at his loins, appealing for girls with small feet, for whom he was named, to come forth and appease his wicked need.

With the evening light fast fading, 2 Platoon, after gulping down their ration of rice and flavoured warm water, again prepared for the night. Chih and Chung-hou sat besides one another their backs to a wall observing the activity in the room that was much the same as had gone on the evening before. The growling, the walking about, Little Feet standing once more flicking his sword idly in the dirt at his feet. Chih at that moment was experiencing a mild upset stomach, an annoyance he blamed on having to eat the repugnant rice, not realising he was suffering his first bout of pre-conflict tension.

At the table, Sergeant Ch'e was again holding the grenade vest, this time calling to the youth found in the room on their return that morning. "You. New one. Come here."

CHAPTER 4
When the Winter Solstice Arrives, the Rush Ashes Fly
Chinese Proverb

"Mister Ellison, lad, would you care to join me on the bridge for a coffee?"

Mark Ellison leaning on the ship's railing admiring the superb display of Yangtze River sunrise, on hearing his name called looked above him. Beckoning from the port wing of the bridge was the ship's master, Captain Ewart Quint, a fifty-two year old Scotsman who had skippered steamers on the Yangtze for more than twenty years.

"That's very kind of you Captain. I'll be right up" replied Ellison giving a wave to the man two decks above him.

The vessel was a company steamship, the SS Tan Meng, one of the largest owned by Livingston's. Built in Britain, its shallow bottom was specially designed for river sailing. A necessary refinement when navigating a water course as volatile as the Yangtze, where levels could rise and drop as much as a hundred feet and mud banks, sand bars and boulders the size of houses shift their locations overnight.

Mark on passage to Nanking had boarded the Tan Meng the previous evening, once again a journey prompted by the company's short handedness. One of the Nanking employers whose wife was badly injured when a typhoon struck Hong Kong in the first week of September had sped off to her hospital bedside, leaving a vacancy that someone in Hong Kong imagined Ellison the best man to fill.

Arriving on the bridge, a slim young man with wavy brown hair he had met on boarding handed him a cup of coffee, Edward Langley, the third officer, at the moment on duty as ship's watch officer.

"You're like me, an early riser?" asked Captain Quint, turning in the fixed high chair where he sat observing the river over the ship's bow. Beside him, watching out for other river users was the Chinese coxswain, both hands lightly gripping two of a ring of wooden handles fixed to the ship's steering wheel.

"This is a rare occurrence on my part, Captain" admitted Ellison. "I blame the river for tempting me up to enjoy her scenic sunrise."

"Oh aye she's one for that alright" agreed the Captain lifting his cap to scratch the crown of a bald head. "When in the mood she can reveal some wondrous sights. But there's another side to the lass. She has a terrible temper. I've seen her current so fierce it could rip the hide from a buffalo. And her floods can be awesome. In 31 Hankow was well caught, drowning a million poor devils in the surrounding districts. The dead floated past us here on the river in shoals and their corpses lay on the river banks for months."

"You were saying last night, Mark; this is your second move in a month" cut in Edward Langley, checking his Captain's recall of river tales heard too often."

"Well yes it is. Turning into a bit of a Cook's tour in fact. From Hong Kong to Hankow and now Nanking," grinned Ellison seeing the humorous side to his moves.

"Of course you have brought along your tin helmet?" asked Langley, pretending his question to be serious.

"God help me. The bombing's not that bad, is it?" Ellison's grin had gone.

"Not as devastating as what's happening in Spain the noo. But their planes raid the city daily" affirmed Captain Quint, without taking his eyes from the river.

"They don't seem to be too concerned about where their bombs are landing," enlarged Langley. "Anywhere in the city appears to suit them."

"For some reason the wee beggars have left the bund and quayside alone," added Quint turning to Ellison with anger in his voice. "But they're no reluctant in coming down to machine-gun defenceless river traffic."

"Is there a risk to ourselves?" asked Mark, more curious than worried.

"Like us, most foreign owned ships have their national flags painted in plain view and so far the Japs have steered clear" assured Quint pointing to the bridge roof, before adding "But I don't trust the bastards. That's why I'm timing the trip for a first light docking at Nanking. We'll tie up at Hsiakwan and load cargo through the day. Then get away at dark, put in some distance up river before dawn."

"You're quite sure there will be a cargo are you Captain?" joked Ellison.

"Enough for five steamers like ours, I have no doubt, laddy" replied Quint with a cynical laugh.

Cynical because at the root of the two men's humour was a disturbing plight facing not only Livingston's but also all other firms with commercial interests throughout the Yangtze basin, their godowns were full of products that could not be moved.

The river was their highway, down which in securer times, as recent as only a few months ago, the bulk of these commodities were shipped from the established foreign settlements or concession treaty ports. Treaty ports that China was obliged to concede in the last century by foreign powers threatening use of force of arms unless they accorded the grants. As they were many hundreds of miles inland on a river their validity of being designated ports, was questionable, until pointed out that nowadays with ocean going freighters and naval ships as large as light cruisers, able, during the summer high waters, to reach beyond Hankow, ports was undoubtedly what they resembled. Sadly cargo vessels of all sizes were no longer able to use the river to deliver or collect trade goods. The Japanese navy was intercepting most shipping entering the estuary. While the Chinese themselves had effectively sealed the river with mines, booms, sunken steamships and sea-going junks, depriving the foreign merchants of their only major gateway to China's central heartland. Leaving the Yangtze trading community just the one other outlet, that of the heavily congested Hankow, Hong Kong railway.

In thought, absorbing the beauty of a reddening early October sunrise reflecting from the river's fast flowing surface, Mark turned to Quint who was asking as he rose from his chair. "Breakfast I think. Will you accompany me Mister Ellison?"

--oOo--

Dawn the following morning again found Mark on the bridge, this time ignoring the sunrise. Fast approaching his destination, propelled so by an eighteen knot current, the location of the Chinese capital was pinpointed long before shoreline landmarks were visible. A plume of oily smoke was seen by those on the Tan Meng as soon as the eastern sky had lightened.

"The city's taken another raid last night," commented Quint through tight lips.

"That smoke looks expensive," speculated Edward Langley, "Could be the airfield again or the Asiatic Petroleum depot?"

As they neared the city Quint brought his ship closer to the southern shore where Nanking lay. Not surprisingly the river traffic was light, two junks with patchwork sails going down river, while one small steamer, butting its bows against the racing current was making barely walking pace speed coming up. Anchored in mid-stream and easily recognised as such by their white super-structures, were three river gunboats, two British and one American. These foreign gunboats, British, American, French, Italian and until their present withdrawal, Japanese, were a constant sight on the river, stationed there to protect lives and property of their country's nationals.

"Over there we have Pukow," pointed out Langley indicting a town on the opposite shore." Normally a railway ferry would carry the Peiping, Shanghai trains back and forth between there and Nanking but she was bombed a while ago."

Mark nodding his head gave a fleeting glance across the mile-wide river to the town and flat, featureless north shore landscape around it, before returning his gaze to the Nanking riverfront. A good mile in length the Bund was built well above the river's highest flood level, making an accommodating anchor point for lighters, pontoons and miscellaneous river crafts brave enough to tigh alongside. The main key itself was a solid front of storehouses, shedding and business houses, with few exceptions their paintwork noticeably tarnished by waterfront grime. In view some distance behind was the battlements of an ancient wall, while several miles further, a range of hills were showing themselves through morning haze.

With the entrance to Hsiakwan landing in site, Langley nudged Ellison. "The captain won't take us inside the inner jetty. He dislikes the idea of being caught in there during a raid. He'll bring us alongside the quay instead."

Carried by the swift flow, the Tan Meng was now running parallel with and only a few hundred yards from the southern shore. A hand gripping the handle of the engine room telegraph that was reading ahead one third, Quint was giving his coxswain curt last minute steering instructions. Then just as the steamer came abeam of the landing jetty he ordered, "Hard to starboard. Bring her about." With the ship turning to the right, Quint cranked the telegraph handle indicating a change in speed to full ahead. As the bow fought its way into, then against the current, the stern was forced sharply about. A manoeuvre that put the steamer near in, and just below the captain's intended docking point. Even with the added thrust from the engines the ship was only just able to claw its way, foot by foot, back upstream.

"Now you can see why it takes us thirty-six hours to come down river and four days to travel up," pointed out Langley, leaving Ellison's side to take up station on the port wing. Below him, the first officer was in the bow and the second officer on the stern, both in command of a party of the crew responsible for passing securing lines to the dockhands on the landing.

Fifteen minutes later, Mark, with a cheery farewell to Langley, who had accompanied him to the gangway, made his way down it. To be met by a Chinese man in his mid twenties wearing western dress who politely enquired in perfect American accented English if he was Mister Mark Ellison. Introducing himself as David Lin, Livingston's Nanking assistant purchasing agent he motioned to a man to take charge of Mark's luggage before escorting him to a car.

"I'm sorry if I've gotten you up so early just to meet me," apologies Ellison.

"Not at all. I would have had to be here anyway," replied Lin, "These days Captain Quint is scheduling his arrivals for as near to first light as he can. Besides the Japanese bombed us again last night so there wasn't much chance of sleep."

"Do they often come at night?" asked Ellison climbing into the car's front passenger seat as Lin took the driver's side.

"Every night they have the advantage of a clear sky. Their pilots navigate by following the river," answered Lin switching the engine on. "It's too early for you to report in to the office. What I suggest, if it's okay with you, is, I take you around to your house. You can freshen up, have breakfast and I'll collect you again about half nine."

"Super! Lead on" consented Ellison delighting in the mention of a house. At Hankow he had shared an apartment.

Leaving Hsiakwan, the commercial waterside district, they drove through a gate in the city wall where the road on the inner side broadened.

"That was Yih Kiang Gate and this is Chungshan Road," informed Lin, steering the car past rickshaw and cart traffic. "When Generalissimo Chiang selected Nanking as China's new capital it was rather run down, facilities bygone. Today most of the city is new or rebuilt the streets and roads, like the one we're on, no longer meanders. In part it was brutally done, but that's in the past now."

"Is Nanking your home?" asked Mark.

"No!" replied Lin. "I and my family are from Peiping. My father published a paper there until Chiang asked him to come here and become the editor of a Kuomintang Party newspaper, which he is still doing."

"And yourself. Have you worked for Livingston's long?" asked Ellison intensely curious about this well-spoken, self-assured man.

"For three years," answered Lin "Straight after graduating from college in America."

"America David? Golly!" blurted out the Englishman. Immediately offering his pardon, "Oh! May I call you David?"

"Indeed. But discreetly during work. The company is still a bit stiff-necked about that," smiled Lin.

"Done! And you call me Mark," replied Ellison.

The house was on a street running south off the Fukien Road, the residence of Livingston's Nanking shipping manager, Henry Bruce's, the man who had left for Hong Kong to attend the bedside of his injured wife. On leaving he had requested that his replacement be given use of the house to avoid neglect of the property and keep the servants employed. Before returning to Hsiakway David Lin left Mark in the care of the house-boy, Keng, a small man in his fifties who greeted the young Englishman with a respectful bow. Speaking in broken but understandable English, he led Mark into the entrance hall where the house staff were introduced to him, and then taken on a familiarisation tour.

Spending most of his time walking sideways, Keng showed him the main living room, gentleman's study, lounge and master bedroom where his embarrassingly meagre wardrobe was already being unpacked from his travelling trunk by a maid. After a wash and change of shirt he went to the dining room where breakfast awaited him.

On finishing, with coffee cup in hand, he strolled into the garden over which the dining room looked. Taking up almost half the ground available within the walled property it was a typical Chinese garden, flawlessly laid out.

Collected again by Lin, he was driven back to Hsiakwan to officially report in. Halting outside the company's office, a three storey building facing the river they found the Tan Meng, further along, in the process of taking on cargo. A gang of coolies, brows dampened from their labour were working in a loop fetching bails of raw cotton on bent backs from a Livingston godown. Delivering their burden through one of the ship's side loading doors, they emerged upright to continue the circles constant motion from godown to ship and around again.

Entering the building, Ellison was shown by Lin up a stairway to the second floor, one side of which was a large room with a number of desks occupied by Chinese male secretaries and clerks. The other half being private offices with names and company titles painted in black lacquer on the doors. Knocking on one inscribed, Martin Winbolt, Purchasing Agent, Lin was bid to enter by a lean framed Englishman of forty with black hair combed straight back.

"It's Mister Ellison, Sir. Down from Hankow." Lin announced stepping into the office to hold the door open.

"Show him in" he replied. Standing from his desk to come around, introducing himself with a handshake as Winbolt he offered Mark a chair before addressing Lin who had remained at the door. "Thank you Lin. I'll hand Mister Ellison back to you shortly."

"Very good Sir," acknowledged Lin, "Shall I have tea sent in?"

"Good chap Lin. Gets a lot done here" complimented Winbolt, retaking his chair, going on to ask general questions about Mark's trip before discussing job matters.

"To be frank, I was hoping for someone with more experience," he began, raising a hand that was turning circles at the wrist as he leaned back to take a side glance at the river through his office window. "Since Bruce took himself off to Hong Kong I've been left in charge of all the company's affairs here. And a bloody mess it's turning into. The bombing's getting worse and as you know because of the war, trading is at a standstill. We're supposed to be merchants but don't dare buy more goods. What with hardly a square foot of storage space free and thanks to the blockade down river, limited options for shipping what we have out."

Winbolt concluded with his arms spread in despair.

"Perhaps with a spot of luck the war will end, Sir," advanced Mark as a wishful thought.

"Yes!" agreed Winbolt, "Hopefully resulting in a victory for Tokyo. The Chinese have been none too clever with the country's affairs of late. Far better the Japanese took control here the way they have in Manchuria."

"You mean in occupation, Sir?" asked Ellison seeking to clarify Winbolt's drift of thought.

"Undoubtedly. It would have to be," answered Winbolt with conviction.

"And would they be willing to allow us to continue trading, do you think?" questioned Mark.

"Oh I'm positive. The Japs wouldn't dare impede established European and American business interests," replied Winbolt confidently, adding, "Mind you my views must go no further than this room. Our Chinese staff wouldn't comprehend the commercial benefits of accepting a Japanese master."

Over tea, Winbolt briefed Ellison on the disruption the war had had on the European community. After the death of Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen, the British Ambassador killed mistakenly by Japanese aircraft attacking his car as he was returning from a visit to Shanghai, the embassy shut up shop, moving to a safer location up river. Also, preceded by wives and families, due to the strangulation of trade and escalating war dangers, all foreign companies had now scaled down their European staff, withdrawing them to await a settled outcome. In Livingston's case, Ellison was told, he and Winbolt were to be the rear guard. With his wife tucked up in Hong Kong and Mark a bachelor, they two were to remain and watch the store, or if advised, drop the shutters and clear out.

"Did you give Winbolt a suitable impression of yourself?" asked Lin as the two men retraced their steps back down the stairway.

"He would have liked someone older" replied Mark.

"Or someone who would undertake more of his responsibilities, perhaps?" suggested Lin, the tone of his voice bordering on cynicism. But before Mark could question why, he was asked, "Did he tell you what your appointment was be?"

"Storage Manager, he said," answered Ellison.

"Yes, that's right," confirmed Lin, very nearly breaking into a laugh, "Which means you will have even less to do than I."

Leaving the building with the intention of showing Mark around the company's holdings, Lin stopped as sirens throughout the city began to whine.

"Air-raid!" he warned looking skywards, "That's the first alarm. Come on we must see Captain Quint away. We don't have much time and he'll want to get his ship out into mid-river."

At a run Ellison followed Lin along the Bund embankment to where the Tan Meng was tied. Already the loading coolies had dispersed and the gangway was in the process of being hauled away. Aboard, with the crew hurrying to their emergency cast off stations, Quint could be seen on the bridge shouting a stream of orders.

As he ran, Ellison turned his head to scan the eastern sky for the approaching planes. Seeing none he did however catch sight of Martin Winbolt driving off.

Lin, stopping behind a pair of men stood at the steamer's bow mooring rope, he waved at Ellison to keep running. "The stern line Mark. Don't let them cast it off until you get the signal from the bridge."

Ellison reached this in time to hear one dockhand say to the other as he began unravelling the coiled line, "The iron chickens will be laying their eggs soon. Let us give the river boat its rope and find shelter."

"I was told Nanking dock men are the river's bravest. Men who stay at their post no matter what the danger," commented Ellison as if awarding a compliment. His Chinese was rusty and heavy with northern dialect but from the two men's surprised expressions they without doubt understood him and to save face remained at their post.

Minutes later, with the Tan Meng given its release, using the current to race down river, Mark rejoined Lin.

"There they are," alerting Mark he shaded his eyes with one hand while pointing with the other.

High, flying a westward course in perfect formation was seen twenty-seven bombers, three V-configuration flights of nine aircraft, one following the other. Above them were clusters of much smaller planes, the bombers protective fighters. As sirens accompanied by bugles and gongs sounded the second alarm, warning the city's population to take cover, other aircraft, forlorn and vulnerable in ones and twos, were seen climbing towards the approaching enemy.

"Those are ours, Mark. Pursuit fighters. Hoping to tackle the bombers before they drop their loads."

As Lin spoke a formation of Japanese fighters peeled off to dive past their bombers. Operating independently they each picked out one of the climbing Chinese fighters, drowning the constant drone of the bombers' engines with the roar of their own plummeting full throttled attacks. Some Chinese pilots seeing the enemy dropping upon them, turned away, leaving the braver to press on. Whichever decision was taken, it appeared from the ground that in most every case combat resulted anyway. Those fleeing were overtaken, while the pilots who continued their attack, if surviving the first Japanese dive on them, were soon facing others. None were to reach the bombers. Who, with the fighters below them turning and diving in aerial dog fights, swung several degrees onto a new course heading that was to take them on their bombing run over the city.

Shouldn't we be getting under something?" ventured Ellison in response to noticing their aloneness on what was only minutes earlier a thronging riverside Bund.

"We're safe enough I think" assured Lin his eyes fixed to the bombers. "The line they are flying won't take them over us. More likely they are going after one of the government buildings.

In the sky far off, a white speck suddenly materialised above where an aircraft was spinning out of control, an airman forced to abandon by parachute. From the outskirts of the city a continual booming of guns now started. These were the Chinese anti-aircraft defences that began dirtying the sky around the Japanese bombers with small puffs of black smoke. Followed by a wait of some seconds before the shell's explosion was heard, outlined the attacker's path.

The two men with their heads thrown back watched the bombers as they passed over the city from south to north, neither detecting the moments their loads were released, until somewhere in the heart of Nanking a succession of detonations thundered out over its urban surrounds. Continuing sporadically for most of two minutes, no tell-tale smoke, like that seen at dawn, yet rose to pinpoint the area of impact.

"It sounds as if they were aiming at something south-east of your house, Mark. Maybe even landing this side of Chung Yang Road," speculated Lin, his tone subdued. "My father's newspaper office is that way. If you don't mind I'll just shoot off and check all is well."

"I'll come along. Could be you might need a hand," volunteered Mark springing after Lin who had already set off for the car.

No sign of the attack became visible to them until they had passed through the city wall. Then smoke was seen beginning to rise in dense, billowing banks a mile or so to the south-west. With the all-clear not yet sounded the streets were still relatively clear, traffic causing them no problem until encountering the frightened and fleeing. Motor vehicles, buses, cars and lorries, some empty, others crammed with people, were being driven away to places of safety. Bicycles, rickshaws, wheelbarrows, hand drawn carts, anything that would carry people or possessions was also on the move, swept along by a surge of bomb-effected inhabitants on foot desperate to escape the raid's aftermath of wreckage and fire.

Slowing, Lin was forced to manoeuvre the car, picking a route through the oncoming rush. For Mark it was a disturbing sight, prepared to expect property damage he had forgotten the people, whose faces registering mixed emotions, streamed past. The men and women, depending on the amount of suffering the bombing had caused them, carried looks of grief, terror, confusion, relief and pain, for some were injured and bloodied. Crying babies in arms and on backs, young children with bemused stares, while the old and enfeebled shuffled by, fearful they might fall and be trampled.

"Mark in this crush the car's a handicap," voiced Lin in frustration. "We'll make better time leaving it and going on, on foot."

The street they followed was of ample width for normal traffic but not so when called upon as an escape route for the evacuating population of a city district. Although never held back, Lin and Ellison did find themselves at times having to shoulder their way through a number of human jams. Acts that, from being pressed all around by a shouting, crying, pleading crowd, Mark found unnerving. However, after bucking the current for a quarter of a mile or so, they reached a broad modern avenue running north to south, where the congestion thinned out. Then with the all clear sounding, Lin paused to study the rising smoke.

"It could be, for the time being we've been spared," remarked Lin pointing in directions free of smoke. "This is Chung Yang Road. Your house is off that way and the newspaper office down there another five or six streets away.

Assuming the newspaper office still remained intact, David instead of suggesting they return to the car, stayed with Mark by his side watching the happenings around them. Here the initial rush to get away had subsided. Those departing now were doing so in small bands of family groups, bearing whatever possessions they had managed to snatch up. Some of these hurried off as if sure of a welcome elsewhere. While others wandered away with expressions of uncertainty on their faces. Others with nowhere to go, squatted down in shop fronts or on the roadway curb-side to await events, ignored by residents and shop proprietors who were now emerging from indoors.

Down the road to their right the dinging of a fire-engine bell announced the beginning of the city's response to the bomb fires.

"Good God David, I hope that's not the best you've got" exclaimed Ellison astounded at the bygone relic turning into the street opposite them to lumber off in the direction of the fire.

"In our rush to rebuild Nanking as China's new capital, sadly some things have been neglected," replied Lin, his own disappointment verging on anger. The vehicle's crew clutching on where they could, did not even have protective fire-fighting clothing. "Let's get back to the car Mark. Captain Quint will be bringing the Tan Meng back in and…"

Lin, with a frown springing to his face had stopped in mid-sentence to stare across the street at a young woman racing by in a Rickshaw. Sitting forward, she, with shouts and arm gestures turned her puller down the same street the fire-engine had taken. "Christmas!" he exclaimed in loud surprise, "It's Frances."

Prompting Mark to ask the inevitable, "Who?"

"Frances! A sister. She's only just returned from America. Been helping out at the newspaper. Now hell, where's she going?" enlightened Lin, leaving Ellison standing as he started at a run after the rickshaw.

David, with the Englishman a half bound behind, pursued the rickshaw for three or four hundred yards until catching it at a road block of four Boy Scouts keeping a small crowd back by holding the end of each other's wooden staffs.

"Frances! Frances! What are you doing?" demanded Lin, running up to the young woman who was out of the rickshaw and apparently protesting to one of the boy scouts.

Responding to the call of her name the young woman's head turned, an expression of irritation spoiling a very attractive face.

"David!" she exclaimed, surprised to find her brother out of nowhere standing breathless at her side.

"You shouldn't be here. It is dangerous so near the bombed areas," his words sounding more a reproach than a warning.

"It's for the newspaper," she replied, her voice determined. "We had word at the office that the New Life Movement building was burning. Our photographer has gone off to the fields for safety and I'm trying to get through here to take pictures for the morning edition. But this young man won't let me pass."

"And so he shouldn't. Look!" agreed her brother, pointing at the route she was intending to take. Bombs had fallen near the street, scattering debris from shattered shops across its surface. Name boards from the same shops hung damaged, or blasted into the street, laid alongside a fallen telegraph pole, while smoke and ash billowed low over the rooftops from blazing houses in back.

"Nonsense David," dismissed his sister, "My rickshaw puller will have me safely through that in seconds."

"No! No! Too terrible! Too terrible! Pay now!" By speaking in Chinese the brother and sister had allowed the puller to overhear. Standing between his shafts, extending an outstretched hand, it was plain his commitment to the journey was at an end.

"Well, I'm not chasing after a detour. That's the shortest way so I'll go on, on foot," declared the sister taking a coin from her purse to pay off the puller.

Mark, standing back beside the rickshaw, listening, on seeing the woman was resolute, reached inside it to lift out a camera and canvas holdall. Whereupon, for an instant he and the sister stood confronting each other, the Englishman with the beginning of a smile, she puzzled by this act from someone, who was to her, a compete stranger.

"Oh! I'm sorry Mark" apologised David, having overlooked an earlier introduction because of concern for his sister. "Frances, this is Mark Ellison, a colleague just down from Hankow. Mark, Frances, my sister."

In a Nanking street, amid the aftermath of a bombing raid, within the sound of a raging fire, ash descending around them, watched by a crowd who were witnessing their homes and business ablaze, the two people exchanged western courtesy.

"How do you do?" she asked offering her hand, her smile sincere.

"Despite the setting, pleased to meet you, indeed," returned Ellison, their handshake, a light clasp. Who, even in these circumstances was near agape at the young woman's stunning looks. Dressed in a flower-patterned pale yellow cheong-sam with a slit to one knee that held her slender body in a tight mould, while her hair was done in a short western style, with, like many girls Mark had seen in the city a flower in it, a white carnation. The colour of which also accenting dark beguiling eyes, a flawless untanned face and glossed lips that might tempt men to take liberties. In those few seconds the Englishman had no hesitation in rating Frances Lin, one of the most captivating women he had met.

"Thank you mister Ellison," she replied, formally, before turning back to her brother. "David I must get pictures of the New Life Movement Building, will you have a word with these boys?"

Reluctantly her brother tired.

"We know you are only doing your duty in holding back the crowd. He began addressing one of the scouts. "But this woman, first sister, must pass through in order to take photographs for her newspaper."

Politely but firmly the Boy Scout, a youngster of about fourteen, refused. Then a policeman, appearing from out of the crowd asked Lin, in an abrupt manner, why he was pestering a young boy scout trying to carry out his assigned function. Explaining his sister's request and reason, the policeman's reply was to uphold the Boy Scout's refusal.

"David?" inquired Mark, who had listened to the Chinese spoken conversation, at the same moment touching the sister's arm to stop her as she was about to question the policeman's ruling. "You did say that Generalissimo Chiang was the patron of your father's paper?"

A minute later, with David away to collect the car, he and the sister were hurrying down the forbidden street together. Mark, in possession of the holdall and complexed-looking Swiss camera, asked, "Frances, you do know how to operate this contraption?"

"Possibly not," replied the young woman holding tight below her chin with one hand Ellison's jacket that was draped over her shoulders as protection against the thickening ash. "But it's a splendid opportunity to learn."

CHAPTER 5
Hang our Banners on the Outer Walls
William Shakespeare

Bursting into a burnt-out ground floor room of a war scared building; Han Chih pushed a partly destroyed desk from a window where he could use it for cover. At the other end of what was once an office, Chung-hou and Little Feet overturned a large filing cabinet for similar use. Stationing himself at a window, standing to one side to avoid presenting a target, Mi-niu, Blind Ox, with his one eye watched the street their office windows faced. It was a cold, overcast morning in late October and Shanghai, as it had done for the last months shook from explosions of artillery shells and aerial bombing.

Crouching on one knee behind the desk, Chih readied himself for what was sure to come. Checking the safety catch of his rifle he eased the bolt back, confirming there was a round in the chamber, then trying to remember how many bullets were still in the magazine, felt through the pockets of his quilted coat for more. This quilted coat and accompanying trousers, much needed with winter approaching, was, like most things Pointed Sword wore, ate, or fought with, not a provided issue. A week before they had followed in support of a division newly arrived from Hupeh Province who was attacking to retake the North Railway Station. Clothed in winter dress, it was from the bodies of their dead that Chih and the rest of his 4 Company comrade obtained the quilted uniform most of them now wore.

Beyond the buildings to their front, rifle shots and prolonged bursts of machine-gun fire sounded for several minutes then suddenly stopped. Tensing, no one in the room spoke, alerted by the break in firing, they watched for the appearance of men in retreat.

In this the third week of October the situation around Shanghai had swung in favour of Japan. Endeavouring to fling the Japanese off their shores, over two million Chinese soldiers were absorbed in a battle more bloodily than anything fought during the Great War. In attacks, counter-attacks and under bombardments the cost in casualties to China was half a million dead and countless wounded. A terrible price, but to many Chinese commanders an acceptable one, China had an abundant population with unlimited manpower to draw on.

On the other hand, Japan, although only losing a tenth of the men, was an island nation that could not afford involvement in a war of attrition. Accepting that as the major factor, their army strategists changed tactics, landing a heavy force on the coast, south of the city. From there almost unopposed they were able to mount an outflanking movement to the rear of the Chinese Shanghai army. With no troop reserves strong enough to halt this encirclement the Chinese commander-in-chief had no choice but to order a general retreat.

"Here they come," called Blind Ox from his window post.

Down a street opposite, leading towards their own, men were seen scrambling out of buildings and running their way. This was what remained of one half of 4 Company, less than forty, the last to emerge Captain Pai. At his side, as always, was Shih Hi-gih, the company boy bugler, his bugle held in one hand a Mauser pistol in the other.

With all Chinese forces in full retreat, Pointed Sword Brigade was one of the last formations in their sector to disengage, 4 Company the very last of all, fighting a rear guard withdrawal.

Of those approaching Chih's position none halted. Although some were wounded, one running with a limp giving evidence of a leg wound, all hastened through or around those who waited and watched. Four Company was split in two halves, each after fighting a short delaying engagement, would retreat by leapfrogging the other. Only Captain Pai paused on passing. Checking that Sergeant Ch'e, in command of this second half, had taken up a suitable defence that allowed him and his men an accessible route of escape.

Clearing rubble away from the fire damaged desk so he could lower more of himself behind it, Han Chih, taking a firm grip on his rifle, peered over the sights at the ground he covered through the window. Born to farm, the skills he now practiced had nothing to do with producing food from the land. Stripping and assembling of light machine-guns, priming grenades, correctly aiming and firing a rifle, these, now as a soldier were his new talents. And, although having killed many times already, he was still day to day adding to his newly adopted craft. As reflected in the way he took cover deep in the room and not standing outlined in the window.

"Dwarfs," alerted Blind Ox from his window post, drawing back to take concealment in the room's shadows.

Chih, his head rising slightly, began scanning in detail the war ruined buildings and rubble filled street opposite him. Spotting a Japanese helmet cocked in observation out from the protective cover of a doorway, he placed his rifle foresight on it but kept both eyes open.

"I see a dwarf in a door," Chih warned the others in the room.

"There will be more. Pick a good target. We will shoot after you," cautioned Little Feet. Both he and Chung-hou were down behind the cabinet, rifles ready.

Suddenly out of the same doorway from behind the peering helmeted head, darted a dark brown khaki dressed figure clutching a rifle. Running to the next doorway he ducked in out of sight. Then others began following, one by one moving in short dashes from cover to cover, up the street. Chih waited, aiming but not firing, he was hoping a sword carrier would appear, an officer worthy of his bullet. Disappointed, he shot instead an enemy of just somewhat lesser importance, a light machine gunner. Holding his weapon balanced over a shoulder, he and it slumped onto the curb-side.

With their rifle shots ringing off the walls of the room, Little Feet and Chung-hou began firing. Very soon this spread to other buildings defended by 4 Company. But minute-by-minute as Japanese numbers increased their returning fire began to overwhelm the outmatched Chinese riflemen. As bursts of machine-gun fire hammered the outside of their building some finding the windows to ricochet around the inside walls, Chih and the others waited for the signal that would have them falling back once again. This would be a lull in the Japanese firing that meant their enemy was about to mount an attack.

Pointed Sword had used this tactic in their withdrawal all the way back from North Railway Station. Its success was due to the enemy's inflexible battle drills. Not once did they attempt to mount a counter move that would have caught the retreating Chinese at a disadvantage.

Crouching in cover, beaten there by the volume of fire flung at them by the enemy, Chih and the others began readying themselves to leave. In daylight, facing superior numbers and firepower the Chinese had no option other than to fall back out of reach. When the lull came it was almost instantaneous. The high speed cracking of machine-guns and swarms of rifle shots, petering down to random single rounds.

Without a shout given the four men bolted for the room's rear door, fleeing through the building to the street behind. Joining them there, exiting other shattered buildings to race along a parallel street, were between thirty-five and forty men, the depleted combined strength of 4 Company's 1st and 2nd Platoons spurred on by shouts from Sergeant Ch'e, forewarning of the consequences for slowness, they crossed a street junction before clambering over a hastily thrown up battle line manned by their 3rd Battalion. There observing them safely in was Captain Pai, standing behind and a pace to one side of the familiar figure of their brigade commander, Colonel Lung Fam-hai, Wild Sea. Standing hands on hips he took note of every man who entered, as if each one was of special interest.

This was to be Pointed Sword's last defence; their next move would be that of following the rest of the army in final withdrawal from Shanghai. Holed up in the south-west corner of Chapei, a blasted and burnt out waste that was once a predominantly Chinese district, they were being given the task of wedging open an alleyway of retreat for the one remaining Chinese division still to make its escape from the city.

The 88th, holding a sector to their right, was one of Chiang's regular central government divisions 'The Generalissimo's Own' Sergeant Ch'e called them, spitting his words, considering them in their black tailored uniforms and German helmets, pampered troops. A fair assumption if comparing that with Pointed Sword's own shabby outfitting until reminded the 88th was one of the first Chinese units to oppose the Japanese in Shanghai and had fought with nothing short of gallantry since.

Rejoining their battalion, 4 Company was placed in a reserve position on the Soochow Creek embankment where their rear lay secured. Facing them across this narrow strip of ill-smelling water was the foreigner's international settlement, still neutral and at night still brightly lit. Along the embankment they had fortified their perimeter with barbed wire and sandbagged block-houses, manned by English soldiers wearing rounded steel helmets.

Throughout the rest of the day the Japanese pounded Chapei with artillery and attacks by dive bombers. These planes, with no anti-aircraft defence on the ground to fear, dived down to point blank heights before releasing their bombs. This meant there was hardly any chance of mistakenly bombing the foreign settlement allowing them to place their high explosives right up to the edge of the Soochow. A development the British soldiers on the opposite bank were finding extremely unnerving, pinned in their bunkers because of deadly bits of shrapnel and masonry showering around them.

As the late October evening faded into full night and the enemy's bombardment slackened, Chih and Chung-hou crept out from under a partly fallen wall they had sheltered beneath. Aware there was scant likelihood of a meal being provided, they squatted at the edge of the embankment roadway rummaging through pockets and haversacks for scraps of food. Shortly, after devouring what they had, their attention was drawn to the far bank by the shouts of foreign voices. In the gloom a figure was seen slipping through the barbed wire. Two English soldiers carrying rifles followed up but remained on their side of the wire watching as the figure made its way down a flight of stone steps to dive headlong into the waters of the creek.

Curiosity drew Chih, Chung-hou and a handful of others to the rim of the embankment where they could look down on the creek and the figure in it swimming towards them. On reaching their side, a vertical stone banking, this figure, in search of a way out began swimming back and forth amongst the debris and filth afloat against the stonework. Without success and tiring, the figure clung to a piece of broken plank catching its breath. Then on seeing those stood above, it called out, "Are you the brave soldiers fighting here?" the voice was feminine.

"Who is the foolish cousin of a water-rat asking?" called back someone from the bank.

"I have brought you something. Please help me out of here?" she appealed to those above.

"If your gift is to be eaten you both may as well stay where you are," commented another of the watching soldiers, dryly.

With the young voice stirring memories of his kidnapped sister, Chih began searching the lip of the embankment for a way down. Seeing there was none he set about looking for a means of extracting the girl from the creek. Finding a length of electrical wire used for street lighting, severed and buried under rubble, he pulled out what he thought was needed, cutting it off by beating the insulated copper wiring on one stone with another.

"Lay over this so it catches under your arms and we will pull you up," ordered Chih doubling the wire together and lowering the looped end. After two attempts at draping herself inside the wire she was dragged up by Chih and three others, her back brushing the stone surface as she rose.

"Thank you! Thank you!" she gasped turning over onto her hands and knees to vomit.

"It is good you get the Soochow out from inside you" cautioned Chung-hou, "Its waters has the sourest of poisons."

"What is this gift you've brought us?" asked one of the soldiers around her.

For a moment the girl did not answer coughing and spitting the foul creek water from her lips before standing up to open her tonic blouse." "A flag. We in the settlement could not see a flag flying above you. So I have brought you one," her speech was faultery from shortness of breath but this did not obscure the soft tones of a cultured Shanghai dialect.

Judging by village standards, Chih placed the girl's age at about fifteen, a compliment to her genteel, city upbringing; for the girl was a young woman of nineteen. With her clothes, a dark tonic and narrow trousers dripping water, she unfolded a large red cloth, the top left-hand quarter blue with a round, white, twelve-rayed sun in its middle, the flag of the Republic of China. Pushing wet shoulder length hair away from her face she held the banner out. "The Japanese barbarians fly their flag in battle, so must you," spoken with fiery determination, the sight of pearl white teeth appearing on her night darkened face betrayed a triumphant smile.

Taken to Captain Pai, he escorted her to battalion headquarters where she found herself confronted by Colonel Lung on an inspection visit of his first regiment. He, on being told of her mission and brave swim to reach them, threw his arms around the girl in a crushing embrace, lifting her off her feet. Then directing Pai to see the girl's flag was flown, the captain returned her to the warehouse his company occupied, telling Sergeant Ch'e to take charge of seeing this was done. With Chih and Chung-hou in attendance, Ch'e led the girl, who insisted on retaining the flag, up to the top floor of their six storey building. On the perimeter line below them the fighting had discontinued for the night, just the odd sporadic burst of machine-gun fire and single rifle shots marked the conflict boundary. Whereas in the distance, north and south of the city, was seen evidence of heavier fighting, flashes of artillery firing and shells exploding.

"This window, girl," said Sergeant Ch'e indicating one of several in a large corner room. "We will put your flag out this one."

"Oh, no Sergeant. Not there," she declined. "It is facing west and will not be seen by the people in the foreign settlement. They must see the flag that will bare witness to all the world of your heroic resistance against the Japanese aggressors."

"So, daughter of the Soochow. This window is not suitable?" Ch'e spoke crossly; he had not slept properly for three days and wanted this flag-raising finished quickly. "Shall I grow wings and fly around the city waving it?"

"I do not mean to be so difficult with those who are China's bravest soldiers" apologised the young woman with the sombre tone of a caged songbird. "We who live in the settlement prayed everyday for victory for you. And cried on learning of your retreat. What I humbly ask is that the flag fly where all can see. Because honoured Sergeant it is not my flag, it is China's flag, it is our flag."

For some moments Sergeant Ch'e couldn't reply, staring at the young woman whose arms clutched herself as she stood shivering in wet clothes and from the icy October wind blowing around the room. "Where would you suggest?" he asked, showing not a hint of accepting loss of face.

"The window there, if it is not a danger to yourselves, most kind Sergeant," replied the young woman pointing to a corner window that faced south.

The rest Ch'e put in the hands of his two soldiers, sending them off to prod around in the dark for a suitable flagpole. Returning several minutes later from the bombed rooms on the building's far side dragging a timber beam blown loose in a prior raid.

"This is what farmers and flower sellers would hang flags from?" mocked the Sergeant, slapping the chunk of wood presented to him.

"We selected this one Sergeant Ch'e, thinking you would favour its stoutness should the fiendish minded dwarfs try to shoot away our nation's proud ensign," explained Chung-hou lowering his eyes in submission to the reprimand.

As the sergeant, grunting a reply, turned to the girl to tell her she would have to secure her flag to this log, Chih looked at Chung-hou to find again that impish smile upon his face. This wooden beam was the only one of any length they had found.

With the improvised flagstaff pushed through and resting propped on the window sill, China's national emblem defiantly flying beneath it, Ch'e and his party returned to the ground floor. A fire there was drawing the young woman. In use for cooking she stood back out of the way of the Company cook-boys attending two pots suspended over the flames.

"Come closer. Dry your clothes." The invitation came from the taller of the Sergeant's two soldiers; stepping between men asleep on the floor she followed him to the fire.

"Slow Boil, will you spare a portion of your water?" asked Chih of a bent-backed, wizened-faced man clothed in assorted pieces of tattered uniforms and an old brown felt hat, Kun Hsu-shad, Slow Boil, was the Company's head cook-boy. From a haversack draped over his shoulder, Chih had taken a chipped enamel rice-bowl.

"Are you wounded or sick?" asked the older man, pushing a broken lump of scavenged wood on the fire.

"It is for the girl who swam the Soochow to bring a flag," indicating her with a roll of his head, Chih held out his rice-bowl.

"A flag!" scoffed Slow Boil, looking the shivering girl up and down before taking the bowl and dip it into one of the pots hung over the fire. "Better she had brought rice to cook and fill bellies with."

"Here, this is all we have, white tea, soldier's tea," offered Chih, holding out the bowl Slow Boil had returned him.

"Most welcomed. Thank you! Thank you!" she replied bowing twice, once to Chih and again to Slow Boil taking the bowl of hot water, warming her hands around it before sipping.

"What is your name?" asked the soldier studying her face in the flaring firelight. Although dirty from her earlier swim, underneath both it and her hands were pale and soft in texture.

"Chi-liu, Chou Chi-liu" she answered looking over her bowl of steaming water.

"And you live in the foreign settlement?" he further asked.

"Yes, my father is a businessman there. He trades in house furnishings for the foreigners." Beginning to control her shivering, Chi-liu for the first time looked beyond the fire glimpsing outstretched figures being attended to by women.

"And your name soldier?"

"Chih! Chih!" she repeated on being told, "very appropriate for someone so tall, but then you're from the north?"

"Yes Hopei" he replied looking away.

"Ah! So far, even for a soldier come to defend the homeland against Japan's evil aggression" Chi-liu's comment was given more in praise than as sympathy. "You must tell your loved ones of how proud and grateful we are of your brave fight for Shanghai."

"I did not choose to be a soldier," announced Chih staring into the fire his peasant honesty annulling her words of tribute. "I was a farmer until the dwarfs came to my village."

Chi-liu withheld her reply for some moments, her eyes examining the tall northerner's face for a sign of an emotion she suspected but could not detect. "Your own quest for avengement is China's great outcry."

"You must leave here before dawn. When the sun rises it will become dangerous for you" without acknowledging her last words, Chih gave the caution with his eyes fixed to the flames. He did not as yet see the war as she did; a patriotic struggle. Motivation in the embattled streets of Shanghai was for him a primeval instinct of kill or be killed.

"If I may warm myself a while longer?" sensing the big soldier found her words uncomfortable she adopted a period of silence. Using this to study the group of figures lying or propped against a wall on the far side of the fire she had noticed a few minutes earlier. These were wounded under the car of three girls who moved from one to the other offering bowls of warm water from Slow Boil's pots to those capable of drinking.

"Your wounded there, tended by the nurses, have they been seen by a doctor?" asked Chi-liu breaking her silence.

Chih who had remained besides her waiting for the return of his bowl looked towards where those wounded unable to walk were gathered. "Pointed Sword has no doctor and no nurses" he shrugged.

"But the girls?" began Chi-liu only to be interrupted by Chung-hou who was now standing at her side. "They are not trained in medicine. The women are battalion comfort girls."

"Ah! Ah!" stammered the young woman feeling her cheeks begin to flush.

"There is no shame felt here because of who they are" continued Chung-hou "They could have fled like others and earned money from soldiers away from the fighting. But instead they stay doing what care they can for men whose other need they may have once provided for."

"Yes! Yes! Most commendable of them," embarrassed, Chi-liu's reply, with lowered eyes, came in faltered speech. The soldier had said things to her that in her household was only overheard from whispering servants. This soldier, unmistakeable by his accent, was like her a native of Shanghai, and much more forthright than the other.

Finishing the last of her warm water she returned Chih's bowl with a grateful bow, "When you are ready we will take you back to the creek bank" he told her, replacing the bowl in his haversack.

"Yes! Soon! I will be ready soon" she replied hugging her body.

Un-slinging their rifles, leaving the young woman to her thoughts, Chih and Chung-hou withdrew several paces to sit on some shattered lumps of masonry. Despite the fire, still cold, Chi-liu looked around the large room comparing the existences of those in it to her own. In the settlement the interior of her own home was clean, heated and dry, the quilted coverings of her bed thick and warm. Here in the damp, dirty destroyed room, she stood in cold wet clothes that stank of the filth from the Soochow, while around her, soldiers, their bodies and clothes thick with grime, lay resting or asleep on a rain-sodden floor.

Leaving the fire, she made her way across to where the wounded lay. Stopping beside one of the girls who was wiping blood from the corner of a soldier's mouth, while his glazed eyes held a fixed stare at the ceiling above him, she asked of her, "I am unworthy I know, but if you will let me, I wish to help, please tell me what to do?"

--oOo--

Stepping down from the tram-car as it came to a halt, Doctor Ruth McRae turned to face it, waiting until, giving a warning with its trolley bell, the carriage, with a grind of iron wheels and flashing of electrical sparks from the overhead cable, resumed its journey. With a gloved hand clutching her coat collar to protect her throat from the draughts of chilly street wind, she crossed between the busy car traffic to the far sidewalk. October on the southern Canadian west coast was not a harsh month. The worst Vancouver and its surrounding regions could expect at this time of year was no more than what it was experiencing at the moment, gale blown winds with the odd accompanying rain squall.

Bent against the wind, Ruth, her pale blond hair partly covered with a headscarf walked two blocks before she once again drew her handkerchief to dab tear-filled eyes. With the evening turning dark she sheltered in a shop doorway, her back to those like herself, making their way home from work. On the tram she had behaved pitifully. In view of everyone she had sat snivelling into her handkerchief, now here on the street the evening's darkness gave concealment to her weeping. Her distress stemming from a combination of humiliation and anger she blew her nose while barely above a whisper cursed, "Bastard! The low deceitful bastard!"

Continuing homewards, her eyes fixed to the pavement, she walked another three blocks before turning down a residential street of wood-framed houses with cedar shingled roofs. Where the force of an unchecked wind, blowing out of English Bay, attempting to snatch away the first of the dying autumn leaves weakening their hold on front-lawn trees, pressed her coat tight to her body. Reaching the house she had called home for the full twenty-five years of her life, she stopped at the foot of the veranda steps to wipe away the last of her tears, composing herself before entering the house. On climbing the steps she caught sight of her father through a basement window stoking the heating furnace with large choppings of spruce wood.

"Is that you Ruth?" the voice calling from the kitchen was her mothers.

"Yes mum," answered her daughter shedding her coat and scarf, hanging them on the clothes-rack in the warmth above the hall radiator. Her medical grip and purse she placed on the oak table-stand. The grip was almost a year old now, a present from the family upon her graduation from medical school.

Moving down the hall, her mother, who had come to the kitchen door, she kissed on the cheek. "What's that you're cooking?"

Beef stew with dumplings" replied the apron clad woman, wiping her hands with a tea towel" how was it at the hospital today?"

"Just fine" lied her daughter, smiling. "Supper be long?"

"A few minutes yet. Go into the living-room. There's some coffee I made for Gale." Then noticing the redness around her daughter's blue and normally clear eyes. "Oh dear! That wind has stung your eyes."

"Yes it is sharp" agreed Ruth, avoiding an explanation of the true cause.

In the living room she found her sister-in-law sitting sowing a button on a child's coat, her son's.

"Good evening Gale" she said, crossing the room to a coffee tray placed on a sideboard. "That's Jimmy's new coat isn't it?"

"Yes!" gale replied, looking up from her stitching to explain in a vexed tone "Another school fight; his second this week."

Gale and her husband, Jim senior, had resided in the family house since first marrying, a situation forced upon them in the decade's first depression-hit year. Employed with a real estate company, and the Wall Street crash of 29 occurring shortly after their wedding, Ruth's brother was one of the first to lose his job. Hence, no longer able to afford a home of their own they found themselves having to move in with his folks. Luckily, because of the arrival of three children the house was large, one with five bedrooms.

"There's some mail for you" Gale, biting in two a piece of sowing thread nodded towards a corner table-stand. "Oh, and Arnold phoned. He seemed in a hurry to get in touch. Left a number for you to call."

"Yes thank you Gale" replied Ruth while to herself, "He can wait till hell freezes over." Then taking her coffee she collected three letters from the corner table before sitting down.

"He did sound anxious to hear from you" added Gale, thinking that she had not at first made that point clear. "I get the impression that he would be hanging on awaiting you to ring."

Arnold Simms was a junior surgeon from down east who, arriving four months ago and was at present fulfilling a one year attachment at Ruth's hospital, St Pauls. Two months into his appointment they began going out together, developing in the last weeks with Ruth finding herself falling in love with the tall, darkly handsome, well-spoken man. Only to be devastated on learning just that afternoon that not only was he married but the father of a young family as well.

She was standing at the hospital's reception desk when a long distance phone call for him was received there. Knowing he was tied up with an operation at the time and wouldn't be available for another hour, Ruth took over to explain this to the caller. Stunned, she found herself being asked to pass to him a message that his daughter had contracted chicken-pox and was now staying with her grandmother in hope that the infection had not been passed to the younger twin boys. Numb with shock she nonetheless asked and received confirmation that the female caller was in fact Arnold Simm's wife.

Earlier they had arranged to meet in the canteen and there she waited for him, chain smoking. On his arriving she didn't return his greeting, instead, in silence Ruth handed him the telephone message she had written down, ending it with 'Your wife Claudia'. Looking up after reading the note he began to speak but was cut short by a stinging slap from Ruth before she turned about and walked away. It wouldn't have been all that painful for her except for the utter humiliation she felt. If the extent of her affection for him had been expressed with nothing more harmless than kisses and fond words she could have broken things off with her dignity intact but overwhelmed by his attractiveness and charm she had given herself to him. Not once but three times they had made love at his Burnaby apartment.

"I'm sorry Gale" began Ruth answering her sister-in-law. "But I won't be returning his call. Nor will you be seeing him around this house ever again. I've just found out today, he's married."

"Married?" Gale froze at her sewing. "But, I… I… Well, it seemed to me that you two were becoming much more than friends.

"So did I" confessed Ruth concealing the bitterness she felt. "It just shows you can never tell with some people."

"Well thank goodness you found out in time before things went too far," pointed out Gale with obvious relief.

"Yes" replied Ruth averting her eyes to sip her coffee. "Don't let on to the rest of the family about this. If asked about him I'll just say our busy schedules made it so we haven't the time to spend with each other anymore." "It's put you in an uncomfortable position though, still having to work together" said Gale, her expression giving emphasis to her incensed tone.

"Only until Christmas" reminded Ruth opening one of the letters she held in her lap, "Then I will have finished my residency."

"But the hospital has offered to take you on as a permanent member of staff for …" began Gale before Ruth cut her off.

"And I would have taken it. But not now, not after this afternoon. Just now I can't get away quick enough." Ruth lowered her eyes to the contents of the envelope she just opened.

"I know jobs, even for doctors, are still scarce but I'm sure you'll find something in no time at all" encouraged Gale, again beginning to sew.

"Yes! No problem at all" agreed Ruth holding up the letter and chuckling, "Here's a reply to an advertisement I answered from an Edmonton source asking for a young doctor wishing a challenge in life. The practice they say here would be in Yellow Knife, Northwest Territories. Can you imagine that? Up to my armpits in snow for nine months of the year."

"Gracious!" smiled Gale as Ruth laid the reply aside.

A second letter, turning it over and seeing it was from a girlfriend who had married and moved to Revelstoke, she also set aside to read later. The third, a brown envelope with a San Francisco postmark she began opening while searching her mind as to who this could be from. Before becoming overly involved with Arnold Simms she had applied for a number of advertised positions. Then she remembered the one she spotted in the Vancouver Sun. The key sentence of the reply she read twice, "Subject to the formality of an interview here in San Francisco, confirming your medical qualifications, we can see no difficulty in your acceptance." On a whim Ruth had written offering her services to the Chinese Red Cross who was desperately seeking worldwide, trained doctors, surgeons, and operating theatre staff.

While reading Gale had spoken to her. "I'm sorry, what was that?"

"I said if it's an excuse to get somewhere to rid Arnold from your mind, then Yellow Knife should do the trick. There's not many places more remote than that." Grace's comment was meant as a joke.

"Oh I don't know, I may have found a place much more remote than that." Ruth's reply was spoken in a matter-of-fact tone.

"Oh!" asked Gale intent on her sewing. "Where?"

"China, Gale" announced Ruth, her eyes rising from the letter. "China."

--oOo--

Taking a chance Han Chih stepped full in the doorway to wave back a man who was about to risk more than his own life. Holding the ground floor of a building that was the Brigade's right flank, the actions of the man opposite could possibly jeopardise the safety of the remaining members of his unit. Over the previous night the main body of the 88th Division had withdrawn through Pointed Sword, leaving a small rear-guard to conceal that fact from the Japanese until they themselves could make their own escape the following night. Now with an hour of daylight still remaining a soldier of the 88th was endeavouring to cross a section of hazardous open streets overlooked by vigilant enemy snipers.

Chih was allowed three waves of his arm before Chung-hou tugged him back out of danger. The soldier crouching on the far side of the street acknowledged the signal by nodding his head, then, choosing to ignore its meaning, in a bent stance began to scurry across the gap between them.

In defence of their link with the 88th, Pointed Sword had thrown up a palisade of shoulder high rubble extending across this street but because of snipers who commanded an overhead view; this barrier was left unmanned during the day hours. Seen from above, bullets began striking around the steel helmeted soldier as he ran a zigzagged path across the street. Throwing himself into the safety of Chih's doorway he laid for a moment catching his breath.

"Stupid goat-head" cursed Pai. The black uniformed soldier, glancing up to see a captain above him, jumped to his feet, rifle against his leg in the position of attention, "Are you such a fool that you do not know that by running to us you could be telling the Japanese devils that we are in the process of withdrawing?"

"Orders honoured Captain" barked the soldier, eyes fixed to his front. "I am Sergeant T'ang, Third Battalion 524th Regiment. I have been sent with a message from my commander, Colonel Hsieh."

"What is this message?" asked Captain Pai moving so he could hold the sergeant's eyes with his own.

"Colonel Hsieh wishes it to be known that the battalion he commands will not be withdrawing. Each man has sworn to remain and fight the dwarfs to the death." Dirty perspiration dripped from his battle-grimed face as the sergeant swallowing hard, finished.

"Pointed Sword also has orders" replied the captain sternly, "We are expected to defend your withdraw route."

"The need of that is no longer necessary, honoured Captain. Colonel Hsieh and eight hundred men have vowed to stay to the last bullet. Doomed men pledged to make the dwarf devils pay for their victory by turning the streets of Chapei red with their blood." The sergeant's eyes were as if those of a zealot.

"I will pass on Colonel Hsieh's message to my commanders" informed Pai. "Where is he to be found?"

"In the Four-Bank Warehouse" replied the sergeant pointing south along Soochow Creek to a tall reinforced concrete building. "Colonel Hsieh has given orders for it to be fortified. That is where we will make our stand."

Dealt with a major upset to what was already a delicate withdrawal schedule, Captain Pai took the news of this himself to battalion headquarters.

Four Company were on the extreme right of the brigade defence, holding a narrow line running along the east bank of the Soochow Creek. Once the 88th Division's rearguard had passed through them, they, that night, were also to have begun their own retreat from the city. Melting back along the creek bank, company by company, battalion by battalion, leaving nothing behind for the Japanese except ruination and flames. Anything surplus or of use to the enemy was already taken away or destroyed in preparation for setting the district alight.

With their commander gone the depleted ranks of 4 Company, thinned by casualties and receiving insufficient replacements, waited and watched. Through rifle slits and blast holes on the upper floors and from protected fire positions at ground level, an air of expectancy prevailed. To the north and east a steady drumming of battle noise was a constant sound but around their immediate sector an ominous quiet had settled. It was too early for the hap-hazard artillery and bombing attacks to cease for the day and when it had, an hour before, the battle-wise Chinese defenders had tensed in anticipation of an assault.

In the building 4 Company held, 2 Platoon's responsibility was the ground floor with 3 Platoon on the upper floors, while 1 Platoon guarded the street behind, their one remaining line of escape, north-east along the bank of the Soochow. At present 2 Platoon were only sixteen strong, which was an average for the other platoons as well. In the room Han Chih occupied he and Chung-hou were on picket at the door, Blind Ox was crouched at a rifle loophole, while Little Feet oversaw two men on a captured magazine feed light machine-gun.

Some minutes after Captain Pai had departed a number of motor engines, accompanied with metallic clattering, was heard approaching. With this unfamiliar clamour increasing, everyone sought a point of observation looking for the source of the noise. Spying through peep-holes and firing slots they stared in amazement as an all metal tracked vehicle with a mounted gun, appeared at the far end of the street that ran southward towards them.

"What is this iron monster they send against us?" cried one of the machine-gunners.

"Tanks! The dwarfs are sending tanks to destroy us" replied the 88th Division sergeant going down on one knee to observe through Blind Ox's firing aperture. This was not the first use the Japanese had made of armoured vehicles on the streets of Shanghai but it was the first sighting Pointed Sword had of them.

"Shoot! Shoot!" ordered Little-Feet through clenched teeth, slapping his machine-gunner on the thigh.

As the tank lumbered up and over a mound of fallen bricks, for a moment showing its underside, the gunners' bullets began striking its iron hull. Displaying no outward disabling effect from these the tank continued to amble forward breasting the bullets away as it approached. Then reaching a junction it locked one of its tracks causing a change of direction to the left. As it moved away another tank was seen following up the first which also turned left behind its leader.

"Stop shooting! Stop shooting!" commanded Sergeant Ch'e rushing into the room. "You can't knock them out with bullets. Besides, they are not after us; they are attacking Chiang's own.

With their attention fixed on the armoured vehicles, only Chih and Chung-hou were aware of the 88th's Sergeant's sudden departure. Leaping through their doorway, heedless of the sniper fire that struck around him, he raced the dividing street to disappear among the shattered remnants of the building opposite.

Helpless, 2 Platoon watched as six enemy tanks, one following the other, paraded past, and helpless they listened when some minutes later their guns began to bombard the lone battalion's stronghold. From Chih's doorway he watched as the upper floor and roof of the Four-Bank Building became engulfed in explosions and smoke.

It was after dark before Captain Pai returned. Giving to Sergeant Ch'e instructions that were brief and final, "prepare to withdraw, now."

"And the Central Government troops?" asked Ch'e.

"They remain" was the Captain's crisp reply turning to Hi-gih the company bugler, as always no more than a pace away. "Find Lieutenant Yuan upstairs. Tell him to bring his two platoons down. We are beginning the withdraw right away.

With 2 Platoon the last to leave, Sergeant Ch'e called in a hoarse whisper for Chih and Chung-hou, the room's two rear lookouts, to follow him. Rising from the door Chung-hou glanced a final time towards the infernal of flame, explosions and small arms fire engulfing the commercial bank building. "Chiang's martyrs" he silently scoffed, "If only they knew for whom they were making this ultimate sacrifice."

Four nights later, with no food, their ammunition spent, Colonel Hsieh, accepting the offer of the British Garrison Commander, led three hundred men, all that survived of his doomed battalion to safety, across the Soochow and into internment.

Falling back to the street way behind their battalion HQ, Captain Pai mustered his platoons together, awaiting 1 Platoon who were firing the building they just left. Chih using this pause slipped into battalion HQ in search of someone's whereabouts. Throughout the ground floor fires were in process of being started, everywhere Chapei was being put to the torch. With China's army on the verge of being driven from Shanghai, charred ruins was to be the victor's prize.

Seeing the cook-boys packing up to leave Chih approached them to ask, "Where are the flower girls?"

"Gone" snapped Slow Boil supervising the loading on shoulder poles of rice bags, pots and cooking utensils.

"The settlement girl, Chi-liu, did she go with them or back to the settlement? Chih's voice was raised so all could hear.

"With the flower girls. They left before dark with those wounded who could walk," answered one of the cook boys, only to be reproached by Slow Boil for doing so. "Mind your load and less talk son of a hare."

Since her arrival from across the Soochow, clutching China's emblem flag, Chih, in the nature of a godparent watching from afar, had adopted an interest in the young women. On the few occasion over past days that he had reason to visit his battalion HQ, he looked for and was surprised each time to find her still present.

Rejoining his platoon just as 3 and 4 began to lead off, Chih spent the moments waiting for 1 Platoon to join them adjusting his belongings and weapons for the march. On entering the city he possessed only the second hand summer-wear uniform given him as a recruit. Now on leaving he wore or carried, a sword, rifle, blanket, two haversacks, a water-bottle and winter clothing, all taken from the enemy or his own fallen countrymen.

Through the night they trekked while smoke and ash from the burning buildings swirled about them on cold breezes. In single file formation Pointed Sword, in battalion and company groups, made their way away from the battle area chosen by each through snap judgement or rough reckoning. As the last to leave they were finding all rear and line of communication troops had packed themselves off to places of safety hours and perhaps days beforehand. Which left them denied the aid of guilds or checkpoints, groping their way across the dark war-devastated landscape in search of their next line of defence somewhere south-east of Ka-ting Yuen.

At the start 2 Platoon had begun their withdrawal following close in rear of the company but because of the dark, negotiating unfamiliar streets and alleyways heaped in ruin, separation was always likely. Shortly before dawn Sergeant Ch'e To-kung stood at a water crossing venting his fury on anyone near enough to receive his curses. Lost and on their own, they had wandered for over three hours endeavouring to re-establish contact with the brigade.

With the sky above them blanketed in cloud, blotting out any stars that could have given directional guidance, the platoon slunk out of sight into darkened pockets of the street to await their sergeant's outburst to subside, all except one.

"Sergeant, forgive my unworthy assumption. But I believe I know this district" ventured Chung-hou with appropriate humbleness.

"How so?" demanded the sergeant always on the lookout for another of the Shanghai flower sellers underlying reason for offering to do anything.

"An uncle once lived nearby" explained Chung-hou. "As a boy I visited him many times."

If you are so certain of our whereabouts then which way must we go to rejoin Pointed Sword?" Ch'e spoke angrily, still ruffled at being lost.

"Over the bridge, Sergeant" pointed Chung-hou confidently, "Then across another small river where a road will lead north to a railway line that can be followed west to rejoin our comrades.

"Then lead us" ordered Ch'e with a jerk of his head towards the bridge.

Chung-hou set off with a sure mind that he could guide 2 Platoon to their destination. There was no uncle, but he was confident. His knowledge of this part of the city was sketchy; however he knew roughly where they were. In the night they had crossed the Soochow once and the same railway twice, which he was sure was the one to South Station. That, he concluded, placed them somewhere south-west of the French Concession Zone.

With the platoon closed up behind, Chung-hou led off over the humped bridge that spanned the narrow water course and down a street of ramshackled dwellings. For some way they meandered in aimless bends this way and that until at a junction with another street they were stopped by a challenge in a youthful voice, "Halt! Password?" From the shadows a young soldier scrambled up from a squatting position to stand with a bayoneted rifle held ready.

"Who are you?" snapped Ch'e, pushing down Chung-hou's own rifle that was instinctively raised.

"Password!" repeated the young soldier, his voice a shrill bark.

"I am Sergeant Ch'e. We are Pointed Sword Brigade" announced the sergeant. "Unless you are also Pointed Sword our password is meaningless."

Accepting the sergeant's explanation the soldier lowered his rifle to identify himself, "Second class soldier Ma On sentry duty."

"Sentry duty, good. Where is your headquarters?" asked Ch'e, thinking here he had the opportunity of gaining firm directions.

"I don't know Sergeant. Gone" replied the soldier.

"Gone!" repeated the sergeant, "You mean withdrawn?"

"No Sergeant. Forward. Into the city" the soldier answered.

"What is your Division?" asked Ch'e not making much sense of what he was being told.

"Ninety-eighth, Sergeant" replied soldier Ma straightening to attention.

"What are your orders?" asked the sergeant of the lone sentry, withholding the tidings that the 98th, a Provincial Division was wasted to extinction in fruitless counter-attacks around Tazang the previous week.

"Corporal Wang has told me I must direct all stragglers that way" he replied pointing up the main street.

"And when did you last do this?" asked Ch'e.

While thinking, at his side fingers began to move, his mind mentally counting, "Nine days."

"Quiet!" snapped Ch'e as some of the platoon listening, broke into hisses of laughter. "The army is in retreat. Everyone ordered to withdraw. If you remain here you are disobeying orders." Thus ending the delay he motioned Chung-hou to move on.

With his role put in doubt, unsure of what to do, the young soldier stepped aside, letting 2 Platoon file past. Whereupon with a push, Blind Ox erased all former obligations assigned him. "Come. Your duty here is done."

Shanghai's civilian population, estimated as large as five million souls, had long since evacuated Chapei, HongKew, Paoshan, and most other war ravaged districts of the city. As refugees they left for safer, distant parts or camped on the outskirts hopefully awaiting an end to the conflict. These, with the Chinese army falling back, gathering local inhabitants with them, once again, set off in search of a haven from harm. One such place was the old Chinese walled city of Nantao on the west bank of the Whangpoo River enclosed by the international settlement zone. Here Father Jacquinot de Besange, the one-armed chairman of the Shanghai International Red Cross had established within its boundaries an oasis of neutrality excluding all belligerents, a sanctuary to which many now swarmed.

Throughout the night hours of their retreat, 2 Platoon somehow had avoided contact with the main refugee streams. Now with the new day rapidly brightening, the street they followed pitched them into one of the lesser flows. Told by Chung-hou their direction of march was the same as that of the refugees, Ch'e closing his men up, filed along with them.

Although a column on the move, except for family groups, it was not tightly pack, their belongings carried in carts, wheelbarrows, and shoulder poles or on backs. Becoming a part of it but keeping separate, 2 Platoon moved in company until after some minutes, bunching occurred bringing everyone to a standstill. Not prepared to tolerate halts the impatient Sergeant Ch'e gained passage through the static crowd by shouting at those ahead to make way or be shot. In this manner it was not long before they reached the source of delay, a bridge over another of the many water-courses surrounding Shanghai that spilled into the Whangpoo.

Continuing through the congestion onto the bridge, Ch'e was brought up sharp as Chung-hou suddenly threw an arm across his chest.

"What?" snapped the sergeant, a hand lifting the flap on his pistol holster, half snatching the weapon out.

"Ratseyes" cautioned Chung-hou, his voice a low rasp.

Ch'e relaxed his pistol hand; to him city gangsters as such were not an immediate threat.

The sight that caused Chung-hou to judge them otherwise was also the reason the column of refugees had come to a halt. Fifty yards beyond the far end of the bridge the street forked. Here, a party of ruffians, forbidding in appearance and hostile in their actions, were blocking the street forcing those seeking safety to pass through them in one single line.

Channelled in this way, those controlling passage could scan and select at will whoever they wished. The ones attired well were pulled aside and searched for valuables. From one family a girl just in her teens was being pulled wailing to a warehouse building adjacent to the riverbank. Stood back observing the goings on but showing no interest in the wrongful acts being committed were three smartly uniformed Chinese.

"Those are French puppet policemen from the foreign settlement" informed Chung-hou nodding their way. "They will be accepting a bribe to threaten any who resist the rats eyes, even though they have not authority here, the French Zone is at least another li to the left. We Sergeant must go north-east, to the right."

"Sergeant Ch'e" turning in response to Han Chih's hushed call he found the big farmer pointing down. Under them where the bridge met the stream's shore was a stone-built banking below a raised wall. On this banking several bodies lay motionless which, in the improving morning light one or two could be seen to be wearing the same hotchpotch of military clothing that they themselves wore.

"Little Feet" summoned the sergeant, indicating he should climb down and inspect the corpses below. The city was littered with dead, the scrutiny of these bodies made little sense, but Ch'e the pirate policeman felt if they were soldiers he had a duty to discover the reason they lay where they did.

Scrambling down the bridge's wooden stanchion's and support joists, Little Feet rooted among the bodies briefly examining each one.

"They are four of our battalion, all with cut throats" reported Little Feet on returning to the bridgeway.

"How are you sure of this?" questioned Ch'e.

"One is Corporal Kuo of our Three Company, he was with the walking wounded. Two of the flower girls who accompanied them are also below, Hao-chou and Sheg-lao, both also with their throats slit." Little Feet had in the past used the services of both these girls and although feeling no loss over their killing, still felt anger. They were Pointed Sword girls, slain as if vermin being rid of.

"Chi-lui, the Settlement girl, is she among the dead?" asked Chih, his eyes betraying concern.

As Little Feet shook his head Chung-hou proclaimed with cold insight "The ratseyes may have seized her for service in their brothels. Under the protecting hand of the puppet police they will remain here robbing and kidnapping young boys and girls for as long as those fleeing continue to come." Ch'e considering their position fell silent for some moments then turning to the platoon hemmed in by the crowding on the bridge, warned, "Be alert. Look to your arms."

Pushing their way through the throng their weapons in full sight, some of those guarding the sides of the exit fell back.

"Soldiers pass. Soldiers pass" called one of the thugs. While the rest of the gang wore sandals and coolie dress, he sported shoes and a wrinkled ill-fitting European suit. With a fixed smile he beckoned, while widening the gap by easing aside another of the ruffians. There were eight or nine of them blocking the street armed with knives held drawn at their sides. The only firearms Ch'e could see were pistols the French concession police wore.

"Who is the one in charge here?" demanded the Sergeant, standing in the exit gap, his question directed generally to all.

The thug in shoes standing several paces away turned side on. His smile set but gradually fading, he looked from the sergeant to the French police, then back again.

One of the policemen, a sergeant, taking his cue, stepped forward flicking an upraised hand. "Soldiers pass on. Hurry! Hurry!"

Before Ch'e could reply Chung-hou intervened, "Silence French yard dog. You have no jurisdiction here. You are outside the foreign zone."

As he spoke an old woman with a bundle slung under her arm, made to slip through the widened gap. Caught by the hair and roughly dragged back by a scar-faced cut-throat his gip was promptly dislodged by a clout from Little Feet's rifle butt. "You must treat more kindly the old ones street cat."

Scarface with a snarl instantly faced up to Little Feet lifting his knife up chest high. Whether a threat or a defiant gesture, Little Feet's response was direct and lightning fast. Reaching over his head he drew his sword, in one movement slashing downward, severing Scarface's knife held arm at the elbow. Stumbling away, clutching the blood gushing stump, his cry more in rage than pain, sounding throughout the street junction that set off a spontaneous chain of violence. The one in the European suit, while taking steps backwards, drew a pistol from under his jacket but before it was brought into use he was shot by Blind Ox with a snap aim of his rifle. Another, raising a knife held hand near Sergeant Ch'e received two pistol bullets from him, fired at point blank range.

In the space of these few seconds the street became a scene of bedlam. The crush of forcibly held-back refugees, gripped by fear and screaming in panic either fell to the ground or rushed blindly through gaps that opened for them by gangsters fearful of a fair encounter, fell away at a run. Hard on the backs of the three concession policemen, who were first to take to their heels. With pandemonium spreading unchecked, only one of the platoon reacted with any clear intention.

Bundling away a thug who blocked his path with a blow from his rifle to the side of the hoodlum's head Han Chih ran for the door of the warehouse to which earlier he had seen the young girl dragged. A door guard, mistiming his moment to bolt, instead slipped inside throwing it shut on the onrushing soldier. With the full force of his headlong charge the big northerner burst wide the unlatched double doors.

At once he was attacked by a figure plunging a knife towards his chest. While deflecting this with his rifle, the blade cutting through the quilting of his left forearm jacket, another lunged at him from the side with a short, broad-bladed sword. Ducking away from this second assailant's swipe to his head, with his left arm he pushed his rifle into the knife-wielder's face while with his right he reached back to draw his sword. Slashing out with it, the attacker with the sword fell back, a part of his nose and left cheek laid open. Before Chih could again raise his arm the first assailant springing at him with a cry of hatred, was struck sideways to the floor as a rifle-shot exploded in the room. With its thunder echoing from the high rafters Chih turned his attention to the other, beating him down with three savage slashes of his sword. Silencing pleas for mercy as the point of his sword thrust through the thug's heart was buried deep in the dirt flooring he sprawled upon. Killing someone, an act that only a few months earlier he could not have imagined himself doing he now did with neither remorse nor reproach.

Straightening, his sword recovered and ready for further use, Chih, his head turning in frenzied jerks, looking for danger, found that immediately around him there was none.

Just inside the door entrance, soldier Ma, the 98th Division sentry, who it was that shot the first of Chih's attackers, was again firing, this time at dimly seen figures scurrying out an escape exit on the far side of the large single roomed warehouse. Behind him Chung-hou, sword in hand was just arriving through the door. Looking about and seeing Chih stood with two bodies at his feet, he approached, bending to examine each. The shot one, showing life was still in him by giving a moan, Chung-hou finished with a stroke of his sword, half severing his head. "Vile predator of the weak" he spate.

Chih, taking no notice of this, began searching out the source of the weeping sounds coming from a darkened corner. Huddling together against the corrugated tin walls, he discovered perhaps twenty young women and even younger girls and boys, some still children. As his eyes became accustomed to the shadowy light he began examining the faces of the older ones while calling, "Still Willows! Still Willows!"

Chung-hou arriving at his side, cast a worldly eye over the group. Except for 2 Platoon's intervention, they, he knew were destined for child slavery or in houses of prostitution.

"You are all free to go" he told them. "Leave now. Go! Go!"

Understandably distressed and frightened because of the ruthlessness of their abduction and having just witnessed brutal killings, no-one dared be the first to move.

"Hurry! All of you! Go! Go!" repeated Chung-hou this time shouting.

With this a girl took a step forward, then another, until in a rush they all fled through the warehouse door, leaving just one figure collapsed on the earth floor.

Kneeling, Chih gently pulled this limp form over on its back. A girl, he raised her head to better see the face. Unconscious, with eyes closed it was Chi-liu, bearer of the flag.

"Lift her. Bring her into the light so we can see if she is injured" bid Chung-hou taking Chih's rifle.

Outside, still not revived, she was placed with her back against the door frame, head dropped forward, blood from her nose smeared about her mouth and chin. A cheek was also bloody as if struck by a rough object. At the bridge a flood of refugees, skipping over bodies of three of the thugs, was streaming across and with few exceptions turning up the street's left-hand fork towards the French settlement. Sergeant Ch'e, gathering in the platoon from their short chase of cowardly thugs, seeing Chih placing the girl down, hurried across.

"Not dead" announced Ch'e to himself, placing a hand at her throat feeling a pulse. Then slapping her face several times he took hold of her shoulders and began to shake. "Wake up girl. Wake up."

Beginning to regain consciousness, her head rolled back, eyes opening but dazed.

"What happened girl? Speak! Speak! The sergeant shook her again.

"Don't! Don't! Stop!" Chi-liu regaining her senses began slapping at Ch'e's arms.

"Then speak" he ordered standing up. "Tell us what happened."

Chi-liu looking up and seeing Chih and Chung-hou, two faces she recognised, began shaking her head as she spoke. "We left Chapei. I and the Flower Girls helping with some of the wounded. Somehow we became lost. Then at a bridge we were stopped by a party of villains who took hold of me and tried to drag me off. Some of the Flower Girls pulled me back. But I was seized again. Some of the wounded tried to help but the bad ones attacked them with knives. It was dark there was screaming, I fought, tried to free myself but they hit me again and again. I don't remember any more." Chi-liu held her head for a moment before again looking up. "Sheng-lao and the other Flower Girls, are they safe?"

Ch'e didn't answer. With a side glance at the three soldiers stood over the girl he indicated they should rejoin the rest of the platoon by giving a waist high flick of his hand, "Leave her. We must go."

"Farmer help me up" Chi-liu fully conscious but groggy was holding her hand up to Chih.

As soldier Ma followed the platoon sergeant, Chung-hou hung back, pointing out to the girl, "Sergeant Ch'e didn't mean that you should also come. He sees no further use in you accompanying us."

"But I have been a help and can be again" argued Chi-lui, pulled to her feet by Chih.

Seen trailing behind Chih to stand with the platoon, Ch'e now made it doubly clear that she was no longer needed. "Girl, the Foreign zone is in that direction. Take yourself home." His arm outstretched to the west.

"But I feel my duty is here Sergeant. This is where I can help my country most" replied Chi-liu bravely.

"We must march and fight, march and fight. You are a house cat used to warm sleep on soft bedding. Go home" he snapped, again pointing. Then ordering Chung-hou to resume his role of guide followed him down the street's right fork.

"But there will be other wounded. Perhaps even yourself. And who will there be to care for you then?" The girl's words, spoken in desperation, drew no response from the platoon leader who continued to march away.

Standing beside the girl, Chih took note of the determined expression on her bruised and bloody face. Her eyes at first defiant soon began to sadden. Grasping a haversack strap slung around his shoulders he offered it to her. "Take hold of this."

At first her reply was to stare in puzzlement before asking, "For what reason Big Farmer?"

"Sergeant Ch'e thinks your legs are too frail to march with us" Chih remarked, still holding out the strap.

"Mine are strong. If you believe you must accompany Pointed Sword, take hold. As long as your grip is fast you will remain a part of us."

CHAPTER 6
Terror in the house does roar
While Pity stand before the door.
William Blake 1757-1827

"Damn it Ellison. I'll not risk my ship much longer. If your party din'na show up in five minutes I'm casting off regardless."

Mark Ellison, standing on the lower deck of the Tan Meng, looked up to acknowledge Captain Quint's shouted ultimatum, one he had every right to give. It was Sunday the 12th of December 1937 and Nanking, China's national capital, was gripped in fear, many of its citizens and all of the defending army fleeing before the advancing Japanese.

Outflanked by a troop-landing on the coast south of the city, the Chinese army fighting for Shanghai, had fallen back to take up a holding position further west. However, the Japanese striking blow upon blow, before any real line of resistance could be established, the Chinese forces, driven into a retreat that became a route, were cut off, overwhelmed and slaughtered by their thousands. Now, less than a month from the fall of that city, Japanese artillery shells, directed from observation balloons flying over Purple Mountain were landing inside the walls of Nanking.

With all foreign premises and embassies handed over to agents and caretakers, the city was only hours away from occupation. The last embassy to shut its doors was the American, its two remaining officials taken aboard one of their gunboats, the Panay. At first resting at anchor in midstream, when artillery round began landing along the Bund and in the river, she and all other foreign vessels and gunboats moved upstream. Which made the Tan Meng when it arrived, the only ship left afloat along the whole Nanking Bund.

Captain Quint had left Hankow with instructions to bring away one final load of cargo while the city was still in Chinese hands. This due to the Japanese army's rapid advance became instead a mission of rescue. Livingston's, like all of the foreign companies, employed a sizeable number of skilled Chinese staff. In response to the crisis about to befall the city it was decided that as many as possible of these people, and their families, should be got out. It was arranged the previous week that all of these were to be evacuated by rail. Only to find at the last minute, the train commandeered by the Chinese army. As was a steamer sent down river, except this was taken by a warlord general escaping the battle with what was left of his army.

Captain Quint, calling at Wuhu and finding it already occupied by the Japanese and informed Nanking was about to fall, could have, pleading reasons of his ship's safety, remained there. If such a thought had entered the Scotsman's head, he, in short order dismissed it. Arriving in the early afternoon, there was no-one more relived to see Quint and his ship than Mark Ellison.

Left in charge by Winbolt, he had rushed down from the top floor of Livingston's office building to begin hurrying the waiting company personnel and their families aboard as soon as the Tan Meng tied up. And a hazardous enterprise it proved to be. Their numbers were almost three hundred, men, women and children, who had spent the last three days, camped in one of the company's waterside warehouses. Somehow he was able to get them all aboard, no easy feat for the Bund was packed with desperate refugees and rogue soldiers; deserters or men abandoned by their officers. These soldiers having left the battlefront had swarmed through the city only to find themselves trapped against the river. A fleet of junks had been in use ferrying them across the river, their only means of escape, but when two were rushed and capsized, the rest never returned from Pukow. The only reason the Tan Meng had not been mobbed herself on arrival was because of an act of forethought by Captain Quint. That morning he had pulled in alongside a British gunboat, the Cricket, at anchor five miles up river. Explaining the nature of his mission he had asked for an armed party of sailors to accompany him. A request that proved crucial, their presence, ten of them lining the ship's side with bayonet fixed rifles at the ready was all that prevented the vessel from being stormed.

"One minute Laddie. I'll not give you a second more." Mark, looking up, was confronted with Captain Quint leaning over the bridge railing holding out his pocket-watch.

"There Mark, is that them?" Ellison turned as Edward Langley shouted. With a pistol in his belt guarding the gangplank, he pointed at a car forcing its way through the mass of humanity packed along the Bund.

"Yes! Yes! That's them" he cried out in relief. So overwhelmed at the car's arrival he didn't realise the tug at his coat he broke free of, was Langley trying to stop him from rushing down the gangplank.

Struggling through the crowd he reached the car just as Martin Winbolt was helping an attractive, fur-coated Chinese woman from the car.

"Where's David? Where are the Lins?" Pushed and jostled by the crowd Ellison, his joy turning to disappointment, could see the car was empty.

"Couldn't get through" shouted Winbolt steering the woman towards the ship.

"Couldn't get through?" repeated Ellison astonished, "But you've been gone for seven hours."

"It's bloody chaos in that city. I've been trapped in jams for hours. The place is a madhouse" informed Winbolt over his shoulder as he forced a way through the crowd for himself and the woman. Who, holding her hat in place, wrinkled her nose at the body stenches of those pressed against her.

For a moment in disbelief the young man stared after his shipping manager, then with venom, because of the hours of doubt and worry he had suffered since Winbolt had left that morning, the horror he felt on now being told those he had set off to collect were forsaken and the fact that who he did return with was undoubtedly his mistress, Ellison exploded, "You bastard. I gave my word. You despicable bastard! You had no intention of collecting them."

"Ellison delivered this accusation with a scream of high rage, which Winbolt undoubtedly heard but with not so much as a turn of his head did he indicate doing so. Crazed with fury, the young Englishman's thoughts were now of just one thing, regardless of his own personal safety, in what way could he fulfil his promise of aiding David Lin's family in their escape from Nanking.

Seeing the car's keys were still in the ignition, he pushed and shoved at those squashed around him, making room to pull the driver's door open, while shouting again at the other Englishman.

"Winbolt! Winbolt! Tell the Captain to cast off without me. I'm going for the Lin's"

This time Winbolt did turn to reply, "Don't be a bloody fool you stupid young idiot. Get aboard the damn boat."

In starting the engine this shout went unheeded by Ellison as he slowly reversed the car back through the crowd. Wanting to gun the throttle and fly backwards with all speed, because of the crush of people massed on the Bund, he was forced to creep slowly until he had reached the outer edge where space was found to turn about. While doing so he heard shots from the direction of the Tan Meng.

As Captain Quint gave the order to cast off from the quay, by cutting the mooring lines with axes, the crowd became desperate. Seeing their last means of escape from Nanking slipping away on the current, many among those perched on the edge of the Bund jumped forward to grasp hold of railings or any object that gave them a handhold. The British sailors, under orders to shoot anyone attempting to board, made only half-hearted efforts to beat them off or prod them away with bayonets. Some did fire but over their heads. The steamer was already overflowing; her decks bunched tight with as many people as Captain Quint dared take, accepting more could result in tragedy for all. Still, only heartless brutes could have carried out the order, for before their eyes enough lives were being lost without they adding to it.

With the ship departing those in the back of the crowd instinctively surged forward toppling as many as a hundred others near the edge into the river. One raggedly dressed woman with a baby in her arms, frantic to see the infant out of reach of danger, threw it towards the ship. But falling short of a sailor who, dropped his rifle to reach out, could only watch as the child fell against the hull and into the river where its cries, unheard above the screams of those struggling in the water around it, inevitably drowned.

Once he had manoeuvred the car out of the horde of people packed along the Bund, Mark Ellison began driving madly. Unable to accelerate at top speed because of the number of army and civilian vehicles abandoned in the street, he was wildly twisting and turning between them. Also relying on the car's horn that he continually sounded, to warn away the stream of refugees and soldiers that, still believing there was a chance of escape for them to be found for crossing the Yangtze, surged toward it.

The destination he was making for lay a long way off, the Lin's family home five miles or more to the south, in the heart of a city under attack and filled with retreating soldiers. With Nanking surrounded, all escapes away from it closed, Mark nonetheless had to reach the Lins, if for no other reason other than to submit in person his apology to them for being left deserted. "Damn!" he cursed to himself. "I gave my word. I gave my bloody word!"

On the first day of Ellison's arrival in Nanking it was obvious from a work point of view that because of the river blockade there was very little he or any of the other Livingston staff could do in the way of continuing normal business. And even if the opportunity had arisen, the daily bombing disrupted their days so badly they could not have maintained a regular work pattern anyway. On the first warning of an air-raid, the majority of the city's population, their own employees included, now left in dense migrations for the safety of the open countryside.

Although of these tens of thousands that did this, there was now hardly one European among them.

Before the onset of full scale modern aerial warfare that now swept over the lower Yantze Provinces, Nanking, the nation's capital, had a large foreign community, diplomatic embassies and legations, financial houses, commercial firms, university teaching staff and missionary schools and hospitals, the city had abounded with westerners. Most of these, soon after the bombing began, took flight, with over the last weeks their numbers shrinking even more dramatically. Of those that still remained a number, out of concern for the well-being of the Chinese in the city who couldn't or wouldn't leave, had set about establishing a neutral zone along similar lines to that which Father de Besange had initiated in the Nantao district of Shanghai. Mark, with free time on his hands, without hesitation had offered his assistance to the newly formed committee in whatever capacity they thought he could be used. Even going so far as to volunteer to remain in the city after the Japanese occupation. A proposal he was obliged to withdraw shortly after. Winbolt, hearing of his suggestion, made it quite clear that he was not free to do so. Pointing out they were under contract to Livingston's, who, intended should it come to it, that at the appropriate time they would leave Nanking to be used elsewhere in China, not imprisoned within a captured city.

Hot with anger Ellison raced through the port district of Hsiakwan for the city along Chung Shan Road. Normally a spacious access way, he had to twist and turn to avoid the endless clutter of vehicles dumped in aimless disorder each side. Strangely, after the first half mile the stream of soldiers and civilians that had been pouring from the city suddenly dried. Taking advantage of this, Ellison increased speed weaving dangerously around the abandoned motor vehicles in hast to reach his destination. Concentrating on the obstacles he was negotiating around, on approaching the city wall his attention was not drawn to it or the sight at Yih Kiang Gate until he had reached a point less than a hundred yards from it. Braking sharply, the Englishman sat gripping the car's steering wheel staring agape at the ghastly drama being played out ahead of him.

The gateway was blocked with abandoned vehicles and a mass crush of human bodies. Because its width was much narrower than the road, a bottleneck occurred causing people to bunch, some falling. Those following, gripped in a frenzy to escape, trampled the ones fallen only to stumble or be dragged down themselves. Whereupon they too were pinned and buried by others struggling over the top of them. By the time Ellison reached the gate entrance it was completely barricaded with an impassable tangled mound of crushed, dead and dying. With this route of escape now barred, and the nearest alternative exit gates some miles to the east and south, the many thousands still trapped inside the city swarmed onto the battlements of the wall. Mostly soldiers, Ellison watched as they linked bits of rope, clothing and rifle slings, in making lines to climb down with. The greater number of these was never long enough, compelling most to drop the final distance, chancing injury or death, adding their bodies to the mounting number who had already preferred to risk jumping rather than be captured.

Stunned at the sight of the hopeless mass jam in the gateway, some of the bodies still alive and squirming to free themselves and those on the battlements jumping to their death, Mark finding his way into the city blocked, spun the car around. To the north artillery shells were landing in random salvos in and around the sidings and goods yard of the Shanghai/Nanking railway station. Which decided Mark in seeking another entrance into the city somewhere southwards. Leaving Chungshau Road he drove at first through a Chinese shop district, which soon gave way to an area of flimsy dwellings criss-crossed with a spider-webbing of streets. Finding his path repeatedly blocked with obstructions, war damage or as was in most cases, the streets too narrow for his car, Ellison spent half an hour twisting, turning and doubling back, hopelessly floundering about in an effort to get south. Mad with frustration and finally trapped in a debris-clogged street with a fire sweeping in behind him, he surrendered the car to its fate.

Set afoot in a winter's twilight, by dark, Mark was utterly lost. Trapped in a maze of pathways, tight little alleys and canals hardly broader than ditches, he plunged first one way then another, in an effort to break out to somewhere, where he could pick up his bearings. Begging directions of the few people he came across, not yet in hiding, these either gave him confused guidance or hurried away without answering. So anxious to reach the Lin household Ellison had not taken a rest since leaving the car. Constantly on the move, his coat unbuttoned and hanging loose, tie long since thrown away, his hat lost and probably incinerated with the car, he nonetheless, despite the freezing cold was sweating. Even tripping in the dark into one of the canals hardly cooled him. Suddenly, breaking out of the bewildering labyrinth, before him he faced a steep hill, its summit and features hidden by the night.

Stumbling over uneven ground, Ellison began to climb the slope through trees and thick shrubs. After gaining the height of a few hundred feet, he searched for a vantage point overlooking the city. An overcast pitch black night, the only light to see by was that from fires both inside and outside the city walls. Unable to pinpoint a prominent landmark, he judged his position from one of the larger fires that he took to be the Ministry of Communications building. Used to store ammunition it was blow up by the Chinese to prevent its capture. Embarking on a course by dead reckoning, only to blunder lost back and forth across the broken country west of the city walls, the Englishman returned to the hillside some hours later to rest and again establish his whereabouts. Sitting down to stare out over what he could see of Nanking, he checked his watch. Finding it was now 2am in the morning he began cursing everyone responsible for bringing about this needless holocaust descending on the city. The Japanese for beginning the war, General T'ang Sheng-chi, the bearded Chinese general for vowing, upon his life, to Chiang that he would successfully defend the nation's capital, only to run away as the Japanese approached. And the Generalissimo himself for not recognising resistance to be a hopeless cause and, after first declaring Nanking an open city, not withdrawing his forces to fight another day. If any of these acts had been reversed, Ellison would not now be endeavouring to fulfil a pledge he had made to a family he had come to admire, assisting them in eluding the grasp of the Japanese. Being job redundant, with few social activities to fill his vacant hours, Ellison soon acquired close ties with the Lins. It formed easily enough with David. His educational years in America had rid him of his heredity Chinese reserve while adopting that country's broader, worldly understanding and humour. Factors Mark soon appreciated while accompanying him around Livingston's many ownings meeting those responsible for their running. And even more so when taken to meet heads of governmental departments whose offices they were having to deal with in formulating an understanding as to what, in the event of a Japanese occupation, will become of the property. He was drawn even closer to the family after offering himself to Frances Lin as driver and escort, taking her to interview assignments and bombing incidents for reporting in her father's newspaper. The mother and father, both brought up in households embracing American Methodism, Ellison took to on their first meeting. The mother, still beautiful in early middle age, won Mark straight away with her disarming combination of cultured Chinese reserve and American missionary open-mindedness. The father, a committed newsman all his working life, had, when Mark first met him, expressed optimism on the outcome of the war. But, in the last weeks with China's forces falling back in the north and from Shanghai, his normal assured attitude had sombred. The fifth member of the family was the younger daughter, Ann. She had not, like her older brother and sister, gone to America for her education. Choosing instead, after completing her missionary schooling, to take a place at the local Ginling University. Ellison seen her only rarely, as she, like many of her fellow students, had devoted her services during the last months to helping with the war-wounded arriving at Hsiakwan Rail Station from Shanghai. Only once did they meet long enough to gain a suitable impression of each other, a dinner one evening. She had arrived late and was called away before the family had finished the meal by a phone message requesting her to return to Hsiakwan as another trainload of wounded had just arrived.

Nineteen years old and slightly shorter than her older sister, she, despite only occasionally joining in the table conversation and hardly showing a warm expression at any time, had an attractiveness that easily matched her sister's. For Mark this significance passed virtually unnoticed, for he had already long since fallen hopelessly in love with Frances Lin.

Slumped against the trunk of a pine tree Ellison's eyes sprang open. Overtaken by a fatigue he took no notice of when first sitting, he shook his head to clear the grogginess. Holding his watch up to examine it in the faint light of fires burning in the city, with a cry of annoyance he leapt to his feet. What he believed to have been a momentary nap, was in fact a long sleep, it was nearly 5am. Woken by cold that caused his limbs to tremble, he raced down the hill slope determined this time to retain his bearings and find a way into the city.

By keeping the glow of one particular fire to his left, Mark, more or less held himself to a straight line course until he came upon a pathway that led to a road. Following this eastwards for possibly a mile, it then became a street flanked by rickety shelters and shops. Springing into proper buildings just before passing over a large canal bridge, in the gloom of the first indication of a winter's dawn, Mark found himself facing one of the city gates. Smaller than any of the main entrances he knew, he crossed the unmanned entrenchments thrown up to defend it to pass through the gate itself, forced ajar and also unguarded.

Once on the inside Ellison realised his location, recalling one evening when Frances Lin had brought him here to stand on the battlement and view the fire damage occurring from the day's bombing. It was Han Chung Gate, which was also the name of the road he now hurried along. So concerned in finding a way into the city he had not noticed until now a change in the noises of war going on around him. No longer was there heard the muffled boom of artillery guns or the explosion of their shells. Instead, in replacement both near and far off sounded bursts of machine-gun and rifle small-arms fire. Other fateful signs of Japanese entry into the city were the bodies Ellison kept encountering sprawled in the roadway, on pavements and in doorways.

Knowing no alternative route, Mark was forced into keeping to the city's main avenues while making his way east and south, expecting at every turn and junction to be challenged. Remarkably his fugitive journey across the city was uninterrupted arriving in the Lin's home street shortly after the day's full dawning.

If free to do so, George Lin would have taken his family west to Hankow weeks earlier. As the Editor of one of the Kuomintang Party's staunchest supporting newspapers he was summoned by the Generalissimo and asked by him that he remain publishing daily editions for distribution within the city until the final hour of evacuation. A man devoted to Chiang, someone he seen as the only statesman who could weld China together as a united nation, apprehensive, but with steadfast loyalty he accepted the request. His family of course he ordered to go but without success. His wife determined to remain at his side, Frances pleading the reporting she did for the newspaper was too essential for her to leave. Ann, outright dismissed the notion she should run off while wounded were still coming in. David, like his father, wanted the women gone but was also obliged to yield to their wishes. Their strength in being a progressive, western thinking family was also their weakness.

Running across the tree-lined avenue wide street to the Lin's entrance gate, Ellison paid no attention to the car that came speeding towards him, even when its horn was repeatedly sounded. Having spent the entire night blundering lost and sick with worry for those he was trying to reach, he was at this moment deaf and blinded to everything not directly to his front. Through the open gate of the high wall surrounding the ground, Ellison ran up the short drive to the pathway leading to the house. On either side of this was a garden of shrubs, plants and flowers. In winter sleep now, but when first seen in early fall it was a haven of fragrance and sweet scent. To the immediate front of the house was a patio with a small waterfalled stream flowing beside it. On the forward corners of the patio stood two large ornamented earthenware pots. Always empty, Ellison froze in horror at the sight of what they now contained. Two bodies, one in each, were pushed head downwards except their heads were removed and placed in hideous posture on the soles of their feet; one was George Lin, the other his wife.

Rigid with revulsion, the Englishman's eyes, unable to believe the sight, drifted from one severed head to the other then back again. With his mind benumbed, his stomach reacted first, causing him to vomit on the pave-stoned pathway.

While standing retching, from somewhere in the house a woman began to scream with such distress it loosened the icy grip that had frozen the Englishman in his tracks. Coughing and spitting, wiping bile from his lips he ran between the two corpse-filled pots across the patio and into a house whose front door hung smashed open. Down a large hallway extending through a house that he had never known to be anything less than spotlessly neat, everywhere was now strewn with books, broken household articles and overturned furnishings. Among the litter of most rooms Ellison could see Japanese soldiers lying collapsed in drunken sleep. Following the sound of the screams he burst into a bedroom at the rear of the house where again he was witness to a sight that sickened him.

On the floor in one corner a naked female body lay sprawled in a pool of thickened blood, while in the centre eight or ten Japanese soldiers were eagerly gathered around awaiting their turn of rape. At their feet one soldier, dressed but with his trousers at his knees was pumping furiously over a Chinese girl whose dress was ripped away. Four others held her limbs still, one of these slapping her face in an attempt to silence her screams. Above them, the two next in line to satisfy their animal lust were masturbating themselves to erection.

With a naïve sense of outrage dulling his awareness to the danger Ellison leapt forward, pushing aside two soldiers. "Get away you filthy beast. Stop that!"

Reaching down he threw the Japanese rapist off the girl causing those holding her to fall away. Momentarily dumbstruck by the actions of a foreigner forcing his way into their midst, shouting and laying hands on them all just watched in surprise as the Englishman pulled the girl away. For some seconds he was allowed the freedom of the room, chivalrously removing his coat to wrap it around the near naked victim whom he only just now recognised as Ann Lin. This advantage, amidst creatures bent on sexual gratification as if a pack of dogs upon a bitch in heat, was never to last. The one raping Ann, enraged at the intrusion to his vile pleasure, scrambled up. Snatching at his trousers, his erect penis smeared in ruptured blood from Ann Lin's vagina, he advanced on the pair. Screaming Japanese cruses he began pushing Mark who instinctively pushed back. The blow he received in return was the signal for all to press in around him, striking at him from all sides. As he and Ann were beaten to the floor, Ellison threw his body over her in protection against the fist and boot kicks. Clutching her as tight as possible, the attack suddenly ceased when a voice bellowing in German thundered through the room.

Turning about the Japanese found themselves confronted by a giant of a man striding into the room to halt feet apart, hands on hips. In his late forties, easily six foot six and heavy built with it, he had a large square head made even more prominent by close cropped blond hair. Wearing a short brown wool coat with, on one sleeve, a red armband embossed with a black Nazi swastika, he surveyed the much shorter men before him with cold staring blue eyes before advancing towards them. One of the Japanese made to block his path but was swept aside with a backward brush of the German's huge arm. Another, grabbing up a rifle with a bayonet stepped forward only to be bodily picked up and flung against a wall.

With the soldiers around him fading away to the room's corners, Mark scrambled to his feet. "Thank you. Thank you ever so much."

"Ah! English" replied the big man nodding his head. "I seen you in the street. It is good I stopped. Now leave quickly before these swine become brave."

"Frances! Frances! Ann began to call. Having got to her knees she tried to reach the other girl by crawling.

"No! No!" cried Mark holding her back lifting the sobbing girl to her feet, embracing her as the German knelt to examine the sister.

"She is dead" he announced before standing to wave them towards the door. "Now, Out! Out!"

With Ann collapsing against him in a tearful wail, Mark picked her up in his arms to carry the girl out of the room. The German raising his fist in warning at the Japanese, followed, showing his contempt for them by taking slow deliberate strides.

"My car is in the street" he called out to Mark as they hurried through the house. "We'll go to the Safety Zone."

"Ann, close your eyes, and please, please don't open them until I've asked you to" implored Mark as they were about to emerge from the house. Not hearing or too horror-stricken to comply luckily Ann's eyes were so blurred with tears she was spared the added trauma of seeing the mutilation done to her parents. Placing her upright on the back seat Ellison put an arm around her as she buried her face on his chest.

"We waited up all night for you to come" she began to sob. "Then in the morning they came… began to beat on the door. Father told I and Frances to hide… I got into the loft above the bedroom. Then… then… before I could pull Frances up she heard them coming and told me to close the hatch and remain silent. I… I… had to put my fingers in my ears to shut out their laughter and France's screams. Then… then… they found me… found me and you came." Pausing to catch her breath between sobs she wiped tears from her face with a hand. "Mother, Father, have you seen them? Are they safe?"

"Yes, safe. They're safe" lied Ellison, unable to bring himself to tell the sad truth. Then asked, "David. Was he with you at the house?"

"Until yesterday evening… Then he left to try… try and find out why you had not come" replied Ann through repeated sobbing.

From the driver's seat, the German, muttering oaths in his own language kept turning to see how Ann was fairing. "She should be examined. I will take you to the University Hospital. There are doctors there and it is inside the Safety Zone. No further harm will befall you there."

As their car neared the Safety Zone area of the city, designated a conflict exclusion sector by the self-appointed European and American International Committee, the streets leading to it filled with hunted people scurrying to gain its sanctuary. Turning north off Han Chung road, the zone's southern boundary, they drove for another quarter of a mile until reaching the University of Nanking Hospital.

"I must leave you Englishman. There are many things to do" said the large German opening the car's rear door to help lift Ann out. "Take the Girl inside. She will be looked after."

"Put me down Mark." With the car being driven off, Ellison had Ann in his arms about to mount the hospital steps.

"But your feet, they are bare" protested Ellison, the reason why he held her in his arms.

"It does not matter. Put me down. Please" she repeated, again wiping her tear-stained face with a hand.

Clasping Mark's coat tight to her body, the only garment she wore, Ann made her way up the steps and through the hospital doors. In the entrance lobby a crowd of Chinese were clamouring around the reception desk.

"I must see a doctor right away" demanded Mark, pushing everyone aside to get to the hard-pressed reception nurse.

"Are you hurt?" she asked, giving the young European gentleman preference of attention.

"It is not for myself I ask. It is a young woman. She has been injured by the Japanese." Mark turned to indicate with a half raised hand, Ann standing well back.

"The doctors are all very busy. How bad are her wounds?" enquired the receptionist.

"She was violated" disclosed the Englishman, lowering his voice.

"If she will wait over there a doctor will see her when one is free." The receptionist pointed to a crowded bench extending down one hall where other patients, obviously in need of immediate attention, lay or squatted on the floor.

"Ann, about not picking you up yesterday. I thought it was being done by someone else, Winbolt. He took the only car and said he would collect David and your family, but didn't. He went off and did something else instead. I didn't find out until it was too late." Ellison sat on the bench beside Ann, unable to control himself from trembling.

There was a long pause before Ann gave any indication of hearing. "My father and mother. Are they really safe?"

"No! They are both dead. I'm sorry." It took Mark even longer to answer.

"Mark," began the girl, speaking to the floor, "I am most grateful for what you have done. But now, please, will you leave me?"

"I'll be by the door until the doctor comes" replied Ellison, thinking the girl wished to be alone in her sorrow.

"No Mark, I want you to go, please. It is not just grief I feel, it is your presence that caused me shame. You found me with the Japanese. You seen what they were doing" with her eyes still down Ann once again began to sob.

"But you need a doctor's attention. I would rather remain… he began, in an attempt to convince her he should stay but was cut short by the young woman's hushed plea.

"Please Mark. I owe you my life. But please leave me."

Promising he would have clothes sent, Mark, his mind still numb from the ghastly encounters of the morning, walked slowly from the building. Outside he stopped to one side of the front steps to avoid obstructing the injured of both sexes and all ages being assisted or carried into the hospital. One young woman, tearful and crying in hysterical outbursts, was being helped up the steps by an elderly couple. Another victim of Japanese ravagement, her face was beaten and bleeding while her cheong-sam below the waist was saturated with blood. Ellison, unable to stomach a sight so similar to the one he had just faced at the Lin's home, which at any moment threatened to provoke rushes of blind madness, turned his face to the near wall as tears began to flood his eyes. "Frances. Oh Frances."

--oOo--

For an hour David Lin had fought against the ache building up in his bladder, until now, with the pain becoming too intense to bear, not for the first time, he opened his flies and in a sitting position began to urinate. Despite there being closely packed around him other men sitting quietly or hunched dozing, none complained or moved away. To do either would focus attention on themselves and that might well result in receiving a bayonet jap or beating from one of the guards. Since his seizure, David had seen the numbers around him, held in a factory yard, grow to a strength of four or five hundred men. As a prisoner he was forced to sit for the last two days in this place suffering cold, hunger, flurries of snow, fearful of the guards and every passing moment racked with anxiety for the safety of his family.

After leaving them on the Sunday evening, giving up on waiting for the promised car from Mark Ellison, he made his way to the newly established Safety Zone to obtain help. There, at the house of friends he learned the Japanese were in the process of entering the city, dashing what remaining hope he had of extracting himself and his family from Nanking. Borrowing their car he set off to collect the family with the intention of bringing them into the Safety Zone. At about midnight, just a few streets from his home, his headlights were suddenly filled with armed soldiers blocking his way. Stopping, he was surrounded then pulled from the car and beaten with fists and rifle butts. Driven to the pavement, his cries of protest ignored, he was protecting his head with his arms when the attack suddenly stopped.

Pulled to his feet and held, a torch was shone in his face while a voice behind it barked questions at him in Japanese. Dazed and not understanding the language he stood silent blinking at the light. Whereupon the voice spoke again and David found himself dragged back to the car, his watch torn from his wrist and he bundled in behind the steering-wheel. With two soldiers jumping in the back, a captain with a drawn pistol took the passenger seat beside him. For the remainder of the night Lin was made to perform the duties of a chauffer, first for the captain and then a major, a task that in the early hours of Japanese occupation undoubtedly saved his life.

Throughout the night he was made to drive in the rear of the lead troops at they advanced across the city, forced to witness the manner in which they took possession. No forlorn hope engagements were fought by Chinese soldiers but nonetheless, bodies were left in their wake. Shopkeepers who dared to protest at those helping themselves to his goods, men who looked as if they might have been soldiers, women who resisted rape and anyone seen fleeing. By mid-morning David's usefulness as a driver ended. With a Japanese soldier who could manage the vehicle replacing him, he was marched off to the factory being used as a collection point by the Japanese for anyone looking as if they may have just recently discarded a uniform.

Having hardly slept during the thirty hours spent squatting in the yard; tiredness was not an effect bothering Lin. As more and more young men were brought to the factory yard he suspected that soon a move would be made to thin their numbers. Which, after first hand experience with the Japanese, seeing how they solved inconveniences, he was under no illusion as to what could be in store for him. In the late afternoon, with room becoming so short the occupants of the yard were compelled to stand, as he forecast, a move was begun. Herded into parties of fifty or so, after having their hands tied they were marched away under guard northward. En-route they passed halted convoys or were swept to the side of the road by others on their way through the city, artillery under vehicle tow, tanks, all manner of trucks and horse drawn wagons. Marched to the end of Chung Yang road they passed through the city wall by way of Ho Ping Gate. Once beyond, they continued for another mile until reaching field-lands where controlled group events were in full progress.

To the right of the road gangs of Chinese were at work digging large pits. In front of them a long row of more Chinese sat blindfolded shoulder to shoulder. At a distance of two or three hundred yards a squad of Japanese soldiers lay firing their rifles, using the Chinese as targets. Further on, more Chinese were being forced to charge towards machine-guns that mowed them down. To the road's left, killing with pistol shots into heads was taking place. Alongside this more digging was in progress a point to which Lin's party were led. At a large trench not yet completed they were made to squat in a huddled bunch.

Everywhere around them, like a holiday sports day, Japanese, by platoons and detachments were conducting competitive events, seeing who could kill the most the quickest. Intermingling among all these happenings were groups of officers, senior and junior, wandering from one to the other, spectating, laughing, joking, here and there reprimanding for a sloppy kill.

When the warrant-officer in charge of the trench diggers was satisfied with what was done, he had those involved in the work line the rim.

A squad of soldiers then paired off each man and on individual commands from the warrant officer, one by one, plunged the bayonet on their rifles into the trench digger he faced. As each in the line fell, he was replaced with a fresh victim from the groups of Chinese held waiting. Some walked forward unaided, too stupefied with fear to resist. Most, begging for mercy in loud screams were dragged into place, while others defiant of their treatment were hauled struggling to the lip of the trench.

David Lin was one of those who put up a fight. With his hands tied behind him there was little he could do except twist away and butt with his head. An effort soon halted when gripped and punched by two shaven headed brutes that defying the cold had stripped their tunics showing wide leather belts securing their trousers. Stunned by the blows, on being flung down on the edge of the trench David lay still for a moment before looking up at a Japanese youth being pushed forward by one of the shaven heads. As the man next to him, who had stood to accept his execution, collapsed beside him with a heavy groan, the Japanese youth, his body quivering, face expressing alarm at the act he was being made to do, presented his bayoneted rifle.

When the warrant officer gave the command to the soldier to thrust his bayonet into Lin helpless on the ground he hardly more than jabbed with it, allowing David to kick the blade aside. Twice more this was enacted before the warrant officer slapping the soldier's face, knocking his peaked cap from his head, snatched the rifle to demonstrate what he wanted done. Returning the rifle with a bellow of threats he slapped the soldier twice more before shouting the command to plunge with his blade for the kill. Closing his eyes, the young soldier lunged forward.

Lin lying on his side attempting to squirm backwards, received the bayonet in the fleshy side of his waist pressed nearest the ground, the muzzle of the rifle striking his ribs with such a blow it drove him to the lip of the trench and over. With the bayonet tearing loose, slicing a nine inch wound in his side, David, giving a cry of despair, fell among the three-deep layer of corpses piling the trench.

--oOo--

A short distance to the north of the International Safety Zone, in a side street behind the Metropolitan Hotel, Mark Ellison stopped the truck he was diving beside an abandoned car. Switching off the engine, he climbed from the cab to stand scanning carefully both directions of the street and the houses each side. When satisfied of the absence of Japanese he approached the car, removing its petrol cap. Rocking the vehicle and hearing a sloshing sound from the tank, he took a petrol can and a short length of hose from the cab of the truck with which to siphon the contents of the car's fuel tank. Beginning its flow by sucking on the hose, Mark stood over the can, his head up and alert on the lookout for any sign of Japanese soldiers who might be roaming the area.

It was the 22nd of December; the Japanese army have had control of the city for ten days. Ten days, which for the Chinese who remained, had become a continuing nightmare.

From the moment of entering the city, the Imperial Japanese Army assailed it as if a carnivorous beast devouring a frail prey. Nanking was the capital of China, the hated lair of Chiang Kai-shek, the heart of all resistance and once torn out, would, they believed, at last finish this conflict that had gone on too long, and cost too many Japanese lives. Nanking was to suffer because the country and its people had dared to fight back against a militarist regime bent on eventual dominance of all lands bordering the Eastern Pacific.

Apparently under no restrain, the troops, officers as well as rank and file soldiers, began pillaging the city from the first moment of entry. In scavenging bands they stalked every district looting, burning, seeking out the people to rob, maim, kill and rape. To escape them the inhabitants had retreated into the International Safety Zone, leaving the rest of the city empty. The zone, administered by an International Committee was over two square miles in size. Situated in the north-east of the city, it was bounded by four prominent rods, Shansi in the north, Han Chung to the south, Chung Shan east and Sikong west. Flooded with a population of over two hundred thousand, most government buildings, schools and missionary establishments were turned into refugee camps. Such were the numbers most vacant houses were also taken over, with mat-shed accommodation springing up wherever an open space could be found.

The administering of the Zone by the committee was proving a huge task. One that almost collapsed when the Japanese, showed no intention of recognising it as a sanctuary, allowing their soldiers free reign in helping themselves to the spoils of war inside as well as outside the Zone. The single protection then offered to those who thought they would be safe was the presence only of the Americans and Europeans who stayed. A defence against wave upon wave of murderous, lust-ravished robbers that was proving almost worthless. A fact Ellison was made aware of the evening of the day he had accompanied Ann Lin to the hospital. Returning with clothes for her in the afternoon he was unable to discover her whereabouts anywhere in the building finding no-one who could remember the girl being treated, Mark could only assume, either not wanting to face the shame of an examination or not wishing to take up a doctor's valuable time with what was relatively a minor injury, she had gone off to find seclusion with friends and recover her shattered life. Accepting for the moment there was nothing more to be done for the girl he immediately offered his services to the Zone Committee. Reporting to their headquarters at No 5 Ninghai Road he was seen by the chairman, John Rabe, a German working for the Siemans Company. He, short handed on all fronts, without hesitation appointed Mark transport supervisor of the Zone's trucks, used to fetch rice and coal to the refugee rice kitchens. With so many to feed, there were quite a number of these kitchens, all having to be supplied from fuel and rice stocks stored outside the city's walls, in areas controlled by the Japanese. It was on his first trip late that afternoon that Mark learned the degree to which the Japanese were prepared to respect the Zone boundaries and authority of the International Committee.

Taking charge of a four vehicle convoy they were stopped while still inside the Zone by a platoon size party of Japanese searching for Chinese soldiers sheltering inside the Safety Zone. On each lorry were three or four Chinese helpers who were there to do the loading. These, roughly handled, were lined up and judged by the hardness of their hands whether or not they were ex-soldiers. Knowing most of these men had gained their calluses through honest coolie work, Ellison protested to the officer in charge. His reply was to slap Mark about the face, ordering all but his drivers to be marched away.

After a more successful trip the next morning Mark borrowed a motor cycle to return to the Lin's house, where having first to smash the earthenware pots in order to remove the bodies of the mother and father, he buries the three murdered members of the family. Even though stopped twice on his way to the Lin's home he decided on returning, to chance a visit to his own house to collect a spare change of clothes and shaving gear. A mistaken move, for the streets were full of Japanese scavengers. One group, stopping him at the point of their rifles, threw his passport in the dirt, a document that up until then had seen him through all halts. Then seizing his motor cycle, set him adrift with bayonet prods.

On re-entering the Safety Zone, a distraught middle aged Chinese gentleman rushed from a house on the Shanghai road pleading with him to save his family. Running with him back into the house he found six Japanese, after forcing their way in, had selected four young girls of the household and was raping them in a backroom. Bursting in on the act, his intervention did nothing to save the girls. With a bayonet resting at his throat he was made to watch as each took his turn, one girl who could not stop screaming was smothered to death. Further along the street he tried to stop another party of soldiers from taking away six more girls. Standing in their path he demanded to know by what authority they had in removing occupants from locations within the Safety Zone. His reply was a shove to one side and a threat from a pistol waving officer that left him standing helpless as the girls, their faces stained with tears, were pushed past.

In the days that followed, as the Japanese Army installed itself around the city their acts of barbarianism increased. Using the Zone as a source for plunder and rape, they would freely enter to take by force whatever and whoever they fancied. This was made all the more easier for them because of the initial concept with which the Safety Zone was established, an undefended refuge relying on the Japanese to respect it as such. Of course protests were made both by the Safety Zone Committee and by a second body working inside the Zone, the International Red Cross Committee. But each complain or request met with from the army, nothing but stony-faced silence.

With all refugees at the Japanese' mercy, the Americans and Europeans did their best in intervening on the Chinese' behalf, which when down to it amounted to little more than placing themselves between them and the Japanese. Which was all they could be expected to do when facing such a pack of uncontrolled beasts, which was what the Japanese army was proving to be. Secure protection inside the International Zone was proving no more than an exaggerated hope. And even night gave the hard working foreigners no reprieve. After spending all day at assigned duty, they would spread throughout the Zone to spend their nights at the most vulnerable locations. Ellison was asked to stay his nights at the Hankow Road Primary School, now turned into a refugee camp. Sited in a prominent location, it was visited all too regularly by Japanese soldiers drifting in off the Hankow Road. Several times each night he would be awoken to face them. Perhaps singularly but more often in groups. In most cases a loud foreign voice was enough to warn them away but all too often he had no effect, forced to stand back as they robbed, raped, kidnapped women or took men for labour or to execute.

The house he used during the day as a base and to take his meals was on Kwang Chow Road, around the corner from the Zone headquarters. This he shared with Johann Hartmann, the German who had rescued Ann Lin and himself at her home on that fateful Monday morning the Japanese entered the city. Johann was the owner of a large bakery in South City and had brought all his employees into the neutral zone, for protection he thought.

Picking up the half-filled can of petrol, all Mark had been able to siphon from the abandoned car, he began, ever watchful for bands of roaming Japanese soldiers, to pour what he had into the tank of his truck. The journey he had interrupted to pilfer the petrol, a fast dwindling commodity in the zone, was well outside the International Safety area to the British Embassy in the north of the city just inside Yin Kiang Gate. Every two or three days he would make an effort to check the premises. On the last visit it was found to have been well ransacked, looted and all the embassy cars stolen but thankfully the caretakers and their families were as yet unharmed.

Replacing the truck's petrol cap, Ellison was about to drive on when he heard from one of the nearby houses a scream and the wailing of child voices. Well aware of what this must mean he threw the petrol tin into the back of the truck and ran towards the sound. With what was going on in Nanking at the moment, a robbery, murder or rape occurring almost minutely, day or night, cries like these should be by now passing the young Englishman by with scan concern. After all it was not his country's war. Understandably, for him at this point in time that line of thinking could not that easily be accepted, not after being made to watch rape and murder, not after the sight of Frances Lin's body. With his twenty-first birthday still two weeks off, Ellison had aged far beyond his years, the events of the past few days had hardened his nature, no longer a young innocent spectator, Japanese savagery had seen to that.

Finding the front door bolted he raced around the house to where a side door had been forced open. Pushing it aside he rushed towards where the loud whimpering was heard coming from the back. In the study room he came upon four people, an elderly man, a boy of about eight and a couple both in their mid-thirties. The older man was stood over the other three, the boy and woman crouched at the side of the man who was propped against one wall, blood from a messy abdomen wound soaking his shirt and coat. With the appearance of Ellison, the woman pointed at an adjoining door from where the child cries were coming, calling out in Chinese, "The daughters! The daughters!"

In an instant of stepping into the other room Mark seized the situation at once. Four soldiers seeking plunder had discovered a family hiding in the house. Disposing of the father they were now beginning to enjoy themselves with the three daughters. One, the oldest of perhaps fourteen was pinned on the floor by two of the soldiers who were struggling to discard her clothes. The second, about twelve was also on the floor crying out and slapping in a pitiful attempt to ward off the beast stripping her clothes away. The third girl, apparently too terror stricken to resist, stood naked against one wall. No more than ten with no breast development, her assailant was preparing her infant vagina passage for entry of his own mature member by first inserting a saliva lubricated finger. All four were not young men, they themselves could be fathers with families and children of the same age as the ones they were presently assaulting.

"What the hell is going on here?" shouted Ellison in English at the top of his voice. No matter what the crime or provocation, all foreigners in the Safety Zone did not dare use force against the Japanese, it would mean reprisals for them all. Any encounters involved in had to be resolved with hands deep in pockets while skirmishing with words and a cool presence of mind. Operating to the guidelines, Mark had also learned from Johann Harmann that at times Japanese soldiers could be intimidated by someone shouting orders in an authoritative voice while standing tall above them.

"I said, what the hell are you doing?" repeated the Englishman opening his overcoat to make himself look larger.

Stopped in their foul play, the soldiers, all privates Mark noted, rose to their feet with uncertain expressions on their faces. Not sure who they were being challenged by, none seemed ready to turn ugly. Seeing he had the advantage of them, if only by bluff, Ellison struck again to hold the initiative.

"Ho! Ho!" he laughed in a loud theatrical voice, stepping towards the oldest girl still sprawled on the floor. "What have we here? The emperor's brave soldiers locked in battle with girls.

Using exaggerated arm gestures, pointing at the soldiers then the girl, he kept a contemptuous sneer on his face, laughing again before reaching down to pull the older girl to her feet. Half clothed he pushed her towards the door saying in Chinese with his voice low, "Tell everyone to leave the house.. Go out to the motor truck waiting in the street." Then turning again on the soldiers so not to lose his hold on the room, he began again to shout. This time using the odd Japanese word he had picked up in the last week.

"Brave heroes. Hirohito's strong brave heroes. Big Japanese men. Okll nihon dansei" roaring the words in a deepened voice, he opened his arms as if paying them a compliment. "How proud the emperor must be of you."

As he spoke the Englishman moved towards the second girl who, remaining on the floor in a frightened state had crawled to the wall her younger sister still stood against. Pulling the sobbing girl up he placed an arm around her shoulder pointing to her with his other hand. "Is this Chiang Kai-shek? Is this your enemy? So fearsome, so wild. How brave of you to tackle her."

Pushing her behind him he reached out to take the hand of the other, completely naked youngest girl. As he did the filthy animal that had been molesting her, snatched out to grab her other arm. Knowing unless he maintained his dominance over the soldiers, who so far had made no move towards their rifles, the situation could still be turned around on him, he took a bold step.

"You want her? You want her? He screamed forcing the girl into the soldier's chest. Himself standing glaring down on the much shorter man, who was a caricature likeness of all cartoons ever drawn of Japanese; round eye-glasses, with yellow buck teeth. "Why? Are you her father? O-to san! O-to san!" demanded Mark at the top of his voice, pointing from her to him before reversing the question "Is she your daughter? Musume! Musume!"

Then giving a hard tug that broke the girl free of the soldier's grip, he marched for the door, dragging both girls with him.

Pushing them into the next room he spun around raising two clenched fists, hollering threats and warnings in English in a last desperate rearguard outburst designed to subdue the four soldiers long enough for he and the family to reach his truck. Walking from the room, as soon as he was out, Mark caught up the youngest girl in his arms and taking the other's hand, ran with the two terrified children from the house.

At the front of the building they caught up with the others. The old man shepherding the girl and boy ahead of the father who, with an arm over his wife's shoulder was toiling valiantly to stay on his feet. Releasing the two girls to the mother's care, he took hold of the father calling to them all in Chinese. "Hurry! Hurry! Out to the street and climb onto the truck."

Telling everyone to lay down out of sight, Mark drove back into the Safety Zone and straight to the University Hospital. After assisting the father into the casualty hall he returned to his vehicle, finding the older member of the family group awaiting him.

"You saved my granddaughters from a most harrowing experience" he stated in Chinese.

Although short his poise was erect, both arms folded across his stomach, his hands hidden in the opposite sleeves of a plain blue gown. Addressing the Englishman with a fixed gaze and calm voice, his wrinkled face was given a distinguished appearance by a handful of long white chin hairs too scanty to be called a beard.

"It must have been your family ancestral spirits guiding me and protecting us all" replied Ellison choosing an appropriate modest response, while bowing to the elder gentleman.

"Your act took courage. One that deserves reward," said the grandfather holding Mark's eyes throughout a long pause. "I am of the Guild of Jade Carvers. If you should ever be in want of assistance in the future that is beyond your ability; go to the nearest jade shop and say to the proprietor, I have come in search of my old uncle who lives above the shop." His face totally expressionless, the old man repeated the phrase a second time, then without another word, walked past him into the hospital.

"Mark Ellison!"

With his name being called Mark's eyes were drawn from the elderly jade carver's back to the man who hailed him. Cutting across the hospital grounds was a young American missionary doctor Ellison had got to know from his delivery of rice and coal at the doctor's refugee centre.

"Did you get my note?" he asked while still some yards away.

"Note?" replied Ellison. "What note?"

"I've a patient at the Mission Hospital who says he works for Livingston's David Lin. Asked me to get in touch with you. I sent a note to your headquarters with one of my rickshaw boys" explained the doctor arriving beside the truck.

"David!" exclaimed Mark. "Yes, he's one of ours. Where is he?"

"The guy arrived in a bad way. Large open cut on his left side below the ribcage." The doctor drew a finger across his side. "I thought infection would set in but he was lucky."

"Where is he now, Brian?" asked Mark a second time.

"Still at the Mission Hospital" answered the doctor. "He was able to walk into my mission but we couldn't get any sense out of him for the first week. Suffering high fever and delirium."

Parting company with a handshake, Mark drove his truck back north again to the Mission buildings just south of Shansi Road.

"Hello David. Can you talk?" Lin, sharing a cold patient filled hallway, lay on a thin straw filled mattress with a blanket and yellowed sheet for covering. Opening his eyes he rolled his head to look at the Englishman.

"Mark!" he replied in a tired voice "Didn't know you were still in the city. Not until Doctor Ward said you were delivering things around the Zone."

Came looking for you and the family. Got left behind." Mark, sitting down on the hall floor at the foot of Lin's mattress, rested his back against the wall.

"After your telephone call on Sunday morning, just before the line went out, we waited all day for you to arrive." Lin spoke looking to the ceiling.

"I… uh…" began Ellison running a hand through his hair "went straight for the car as soon as I put the phone down. But Winbolt took it first. Said he would collect you and the family."

"Well he didn't show up." There was resentment in Lin's voice.

"I know. He went for someone else instead." Ellison was studying his hands as he spoke. Then looking up found David staring at him, the obvious question in his eyes that Mark answered only after looking away. "Do you remember when you let me in on the secret that Winbolt had a mistress and I didn't believe you?"

Lin continued to stare at Ellison for several more seconds before casting his eyes again to the ceiling. "The bastard. The lousy bastard."

"Has anyone spoken to you about your family?" asked Mark hoping that somehow he had learned of their fate and he wouldn't have to be the one to tell him.

"Not a word. Have you heard from them?" The hope in Lin's voice stabbed deep through Mark's heart.

"Yes… David, I'm sorry. Your mother, father and Frances are dead. Ann is alive though she's somewhere here in the Zone" informed Ellison looking away into one of the hallway's dark corners.

"How?" uttered David in a weak voice.

"The Japs shot them before I could get to the house" lied Ellison not prepared to add to his friend's anguish by telling him the truth. "I brought Ann into the Zone then went back the next day and buried the rest of your family in the front garden."

A long pause occurred between the two men before Lin replied "My father loved that garden. Built it himself."

Ellison for the first time looked about the hallway. The other patients, those not asleep, were all staring in silence at himself and David.

"Can you be moved?" he asked his friend.

"Don't know. I've a lot of stitches in my side that need coming out soon" replied Lin while tears ran down his cheeks.

"How did it happen?" asked Ellison solemnly.

"Jap" was Lin's brief reply.

"Well that settles it" snapped Mark punching the wooden floor with the heel of his fist. "I'll see Brian Ward about taking you with me. There's a German flag flying over where I'm staying. You'll be safe there. I'm bloody well not coming back here tomorrow to find the Japs have been around and finished you off.

--oOo--

Throughout the following days and weeks the level of Japanese outrage never diminished. Japan, after the capture of Nanking, expected China to surrender and was pushing re-enforcements across the Yangtze to provide troops of occupation. This had resulted in every few days fresh units descending on the capital, each one let loose to garner its share of plunder and rape.

Every day Mark would go out with his trucks to collect rice and coal and each time he would come upon fresh atrocities. Bodies of refugees murdered in the street, shops looted of their goods, whole families left naked after being robbed of their valuables, money and clothing. And rape always rape.

As horrendous as the situation inside the International Zone was, it was clear that if it had not been for the presence of foreigners, the circumstances would be far worse. Probably leading to wholesale massacre. Ellison for one had found that in his case if he had not accompanied his trucks on most days they would have never have got through, the trucks stolen and the drivers killed or kidnapped for work parties. To minimise their stops by Japanese soldiers, Mark had taken to riding the running board of the lead vehicle, while flying on each truck either a German, British or American flag. Only once after adopting that procedure did he experience a major interference to his convoys.

On route to the University of Nanking soup kitchen, run by the Red Swastika, a Chinese concern similar to the Red Cross, Mark's convoy of six trucks was brought to a stop in the Kiangsu Road. Ahead of him the way was blocked with other lorries and a stack of household furnishings being stolen from two houses that were, until the occupation, the homes of high ranking Chinese government officials. Bands of refugees had taken residence there, but they it appeared, were now being pressed into carrying the loot out.

The robbers were not common soldiers. Ellison could see only three men in uniform. One general and two colonels, standing at the gates sharing up the spoils as it was brought into the road. And neither were those enforcing the theft Japanese soldiers of the line.

Armed with pistols, clubs and knives, twenty or more long-haired, roguish looking Japanese, wearing showy western civilian dress were presiding over the thievery. Directing the forced Chinese labour with blows and curses in the distribution of the stolen wares onto three separate lorries, they seen to the plunder of the houses with nimble proficiency. Seeing Ellison's supply vehicles stopped in the road, eight of them rushed at the first two, ordering everyone off, throwing their flags into the gutter. Mark, flying at them in protest shouted only a handful of words before being struck down with a blow on the back of his neck. Stunned, he lay on the roadway for a moment clearing his senses.

"You bastard"! He yelled, making to scramble to his feet and challenge the individual who hit him and now stood ready with his wooden club to do so again. Still raising he was stopped by his head driver flinging himself down on the Englishman, pinning his arms.

"No, Boss, No!" he whispered in his ear. "They Ronin. Ronin!"

With the utterance of that word Mark ceased struggling, sitting for a minute before rising to dust dirt from his coat and stand quietly on the pavement as the Japanese forced his drivers to unload the sacks of rice from the two lead trucks.

Although not confirmed until now Johann Hartman had mentioned that there was talk of these people seen entering the city with the army. The first Mark heard of these extremely dangerous individual was from Tim Hughes, the American he had met on the train to Hankow. He gave first hand accounts of their handy work in Manchuria working for the Japanese Kwantung Army of occupation and was widely believed to be responsible for planting the bomb on the train carrying the Manchurian Marshal Chang Tso-lin that resulted in his murder.

Ronin, a feudal word meaning, 'Without a Master', was the title given to mercenaries who fought for pay in days when Japan was a land of warlord domains in constant conflict with each other. They survived in modern times by becoming the most ruthless of gangsters, secure under the protecting arm of certain political parties who used them to intimidate, blackmail, or murder rival politicians. More recently, allowed to fasten themselves to the army, there was not a headquarters anywhere on mainland China where they were not found. Used to doing the Army's dirty tricks, with the morality of Satan's hounds, there was nothing asked of them that they would refuse, assassinations, procurement of women, supplying of dope, organising spy rings, extortion, terrorism, sabotage, arson, whatever was needed they did.

With the rice dumped, Ellison's trucks were taken for use by the Ronin. One filled with carpets and selected pieces of furniture, while the other took on board young women and girls abducted from the many refugee families that had taken up residence in the two houses. With the trucks loaded and moving away, the Japanese robbers, after setting alight to the houses, climbed into their cars and sped off after them, leaving in the road behind the body of a husband shot down as he begged for the return of his young wife.

In late afternoon, on returning to his accommodation on the Kwang Chow Road, with the light of a mid-winter day fast receding, Mark found Johann Hartmann in a raging temper. Making an inspection visit to his bakery in South City he had found, along with most of the street, the whole premises destroyed by fire. Nanking, through Japanese devilment was fast becoming an empty shell, robbed, raped and fire gutted.

Before leaving to spend his nights at the Hankow Primary School, Mark was now eating his evening meals with David Lin. Recovering his health in a back room of the house, at night he would sleep, concealed in a small hideaway in the loft. A prisoner in the house, avoiding the windows by day, he would use this time to learn from Mark the latest news.

"There's no let up then?" commented Lin, his voice steely, after listening for ten minutes as Ellison described the events at the government official houses.

"Appears not" confirmed the Englishman "as one detachment leaves another arrives, just as bent on loot and rape as the last."

"I was hoping things would quieten by now. Give me a chance to visit the house" said Lin, staring at a finger he was working little circles on the table with.

"David! I don't want you to even consider leaving this house" warned Mark his chopsticks held poised over his rice bowl. "Its jolly well too bloody dangerous."

"Yes of course" agreed Lin nodding his head with a resigned look, asking "Still nothing on Ann's whereabouts?"

"Not a word" answered Ellison returning the fork to his food "I only hope she's with friends, staying well out of sight.

"Yes! Yes! That's the most important thing" concurred Lin. "Survival. Staying alive to fight back."

"Damn it Mark" responded Lin, his voice loud and angry. "Intervene! The League of Nations never intervened when Japan invaded Manchuria. They never intervened when we were attacked at Peiping and Shanghai. America never intervened when Jap bombers sank their gunboat the Panay just up river from us the day that Nanking was taken."

Ellison stopped eating to observe his friend who was sitting back, twisting from side to side in a fit of frustration. "China will win in the end. You'll see" said Mark attempting to give Lin hope. "There is no doubt that the western powers won't intervene. They are not going to stand by and let this slaughter continue."

This was a strong, truthful, argument that Ellison could only reply to weakly "Well it can't go on. It just can't!"

"Mark I'm not sitting back any more" began Lin in a much calmer tone. "As soon as I'm well enough to travel, I'm leaving the city. Somehow I'll make my way through the Japanese lines and join our army in the fight."

Ellison looked at his friend, proud of what he had said, while silently calculating the viability of his proposal.

"Do you think this would jeopardise any future employment with Livingston's?" questioned Lin his eyes looking full into Mark's.

"Might" replied Ellison, returning his gaze. "But who gives a damn. If you're off to fight these Jap butchers, then I'm coming with you!"

CHAPTER 7
Desperate Affairs require Desperate Remedies.
Horatio Nelson 1758-1805

Climbing the three steps into the shade of the veranda, Chuck Ashman removed his flying hat to wipe the sweat from his forehead with a finger. It was midday in late January 1938, winter, but this mattered nought in Central America, here the sun blazed all year round. In these conditions the walk from the aircraft, where he had collected his navigation maps was an effort, causing him to pause below the overhanging roof to catch his breath and observe again the now familiar landscape.

A small airfield, in use for only a year, it had just the one packed earth runway that in the rainy season became unusable. Built on a jungle ridge top, it was sited there to provide an air service for the large town in the valley below, Acarigua. The verandahed building at present giving shade to Chuck was one of only two on the airfield, the other being a bunkhouse for the airfield ground staff. Both built of adobe brick with a tin roof, the one Chuck was on the verge of entering was a combined airfield control tower, flight planning room, passengers waiting room and the aircrew and ground staff's kitchen, dining-room and lounge. Between this building and the airstrip was a scattering of storage sheds a fuelling point and a large mat roofed leant-to that gave shade to the aircraft mechanics when repairing or servicing aeroplanes. Of these there were only two presently standing on the park area between the lean-to and the runway. Both, one a Douglas DC2, the other a Boeing 247D, belonged to the small American freight and passenger airline company that Ashman worked for.

Operating out of Panama, the company was trying to expand into other Central American countries by setting up offices at outlying airfields between Mexico and South America where business could be picked up off the main established air routes. A venture that was not as yet achieving expectations because Central America wasn't recovering from the past depression years as rapidly as other areas of the world. And there were local problems, one of which could soon affect Acurigua. A peasant rebellion had broken out in recent weeks in one of the Northern provinces that were gradually spreading east and south along the coast.

Ashman on a two year contract with the company, having another six months to go, had been in and out of the airfield a number of times but this was the first he had had to stop over for more than a night. Because of the rebellion the army had put a lot of work the company's way, flying in supplied and reinforcements. Now the commander of the local garrison had ordered up two planes to be ready to ship out some government officials and important files. In complying the two airplanes' crews had found themselves cooling their heels waiting for this to happen for the last three days.

Chuck, plucking his shirt away, that was stuck to his chest with sweat and pumping it like a bellows to cool himself, gazed around the field once more before entering the building. The runway, of red soil and yellow clay, with green jungle on three sides, ran north to south along the ridge. To his left the jungle was cleared away to the slope of the crest which gave a generous view into the valley. Flanked by overgrown green jungle hills, it was several miles broad with a large river flowing eastward through its centre. Beyond the base of the ridge, four miles or so, was Acrigua straddling the river in two halves. Within the town's boundaries on the far shore smoke columns rose from a number of fires that had started during the night. Because of these fires and of the fact that the telephone in the morning was found to be dead, Warren Lynch, chief pilot and a part owner in the company, in this instance piloting the second aircraft, to find out what was going on, had shot into town with the airfield manager just after breakfast in the airfield station wagon.

Pushing aside the strips of cord hung in the open doorway in a vain effort at keeping out the flies, Chuck ambled with slow steps across the lounge-room to the reception desk that separated the lounge from the office area. This lounge consisted of three round tables with an assortment of odd chairs and bench seats up against two walls. Overhead was a pair of electric fans that rotated at just the right speed to discourage flies settling. The office third of the room was just as sparsely furnished, a filing cabinet, two small desks with a typewriter on one and on the other a ground-to-air radio for talking to in-flight aircraft, giving on a good day, a range of perhaps forty miles.

"Any sign of Warren?" asked Mac McCann, Lynch's co-pilot, of Ashman as he passed a table where four men sat playing poker.

"Hay! You in or ain't yah?" asked Albert Crayford the airfield ground maintenance man of McCann stopped in dealing the cards of the next hand, annoyed that he wasn't paying attention to the game.

"Ya! I'm in" replied McCann pushing a copper coin into the centre of the table as Ashman answered his question with a simple "Nope."

Entering the office area by pushing open the swing gate of a waist high separation railing, Chuck settled himself at one of the desks. Placing the flight maps on it, his hat on top, he sat back to watch for a moment those in the room.

At the poker table with McCann and Crayford was his own co-pilot, Frank Palinski. From Chicago, thirty-five years old with a receding hairline and a loud talker by nature. The other in the game was Frenchy Brufal, dark with a stocky build, his flight cargo hand from Louisiana. Lying stretched out on a wall bench reading a three month old Saturday Evening Post was Warren Lynch's aircraft cargo hand, Jimmy Ranking, at twenty-four the kid of the group. From all corners the room shouted of boredom. They were Americans a long way from home doing without.

Ashman, the son of a Kansas farmer, although a pilot with a twin engine rating for over five years, at twenty-seven was the next youngest. Five foot ten, hair a wavy rust blond, eyes hazel brown, his face was tanned a deep copper brown a feature attained through an outdoor life on farms and airfields.

"For a quick look, those two are taking their time." This comment came from the slight built man sat a few feet away at the other desk. Cyril Underwood, the station clerk had just finished some typing and was standing to file it in the cabinet.

"Ya!" agreed Ashman. Turning his head he looked through gaps in the reed blinds of the glassless windows that faced out on three sides. "Compliments of that Major Guy, they're probably swimming in ice cold beer right now."

"I wouldn't put money on it" replied Underwood pushing the cabinet drawer shut. "I've met the guy. He's a snake; give ya nothing."

Feeling thirsty Chuck rose to get himself a drink of water from the lounge water cooler. Passing the poker table Frank Palinski was exhorting Brufal to increase the size of the pot. "Come on Frenchy, raise me another Paso. Make me rich so I can quit this darn country while I'm still young."

Chuck, blowing dust off one of the glass tumblers, before he could draw water, the cooler's engines died away.

"Oh, for cry'n out loud" groaned McCann slamming his cards down, looking up at the overhead fans as their rotation first slowed, then stopped. "Screw this place. They can't even rig the electricity right."

"Hey! Here's Warren and Grieg now." Everyone's heads turned towards Underwood as he bent over his desk peering out the window.

"Hot dog!" voiced Palinski loudly. "Maybe now we'll get the chance to blow this place."

Filling his glass Ashman walked out to the veranda to watch the station wagon approaching along the dirt road that led up from the town. On stopping outside the company building two men climbed from the front seats, both Americans, Warren Lynch and Grieg Westcott, the station manager who had driven Lynch into the town. Unexpectedly from the back seat three soldiers emerged. Armed with rifles, dressed in scruffy light khaki uniforms with flat crown peaked caps they looked about with faces fixed in serious expressions. One, a sergeant had a large drooping moustache and half closed eyes that gave him an appearance of being continually suspicious. The other two were sandal-footed rankers with pock scared faces.

"Ugly look'n boozoos, ain't they?" Jimmy Rankin had joined Ashman on the veranda slapping his rolled magazine into the palm of his hand.

"Ya! I wonder what's up?" replied Chuck looking from one soldier to the other.

"Hi Chuck" called Lynch in an uncharacteristic pally tone, smiling broadly. "Got some boys here who are gonna keep an eye on the place for us."

Slapping the sergeant on the back he allowed him to mount the steps first. "Come on amigo; let's get inside and meet the crew."

"What's up Grieg? Who's the general?" asked Rankin as the others passed into the lounge. His reply was a warning look from Westcott to keep silent.

"Alright you guys listen in" began Lynch addressing the room. "There's been some trouble down the town. The garrison commander thinks he could be in for a tussle with some of those people from up north. So just to be on the safe side he's sent up to us a couple of his best men with a real crackerjack sergeant in charge and a first-class guy to have around." Lynch reached one arm around the sergeant to complete the introduction by giving his shoulder a squeeze.

For a moment the American remained silent. Mainly taken aback by Lynch's unaccustomed outburst of warm praise for someone. To them he had always been a hard nut, never rewarding or congratulating no matter how well done the job. His stock reply, an unsmiling, "That's what ya get paid for."

"So, what's the setup boss?" asked Palinski, breaking the silence. "We got a job here or not?"

"You bet" answered Lynch "We're getting some people and cargo to fly outa here this afternoon."

Before more questions could be asked Grieg Wescott re-entered the room from the back kitchen bringing with him Pedro the cook with Maria his wife carrying three glasses of beer and portions of fried chicken on a wicker-tray. Handing the sergeant one of the glasses, chairs and a table were taken out onto the veranda for the two soldiers to sit while they drank and ate.

"Who we missing?" asked Lynch casually.

"Sam" said Chuck Ashman, "He's down at the maintenance shack working on a magneto."

"Rankin" he told his cargo hand "Go get him. I've got a few things to tell everybody."

As this was done, Westcott, the only American who could speak fluent Spanish kept the sergeant occupied in conversation. When Rankin returned he led into the room a tall, lean, slightly stooped man dressed in oil-stained overalls, a drooping cigarette wedged in one corner of his mouth. Sam Sambrook, forty-one years old, was the station aircraft mechanic who had worked with plane engines since learning how in France during the Great War. "I got work on Warren. You got a good reason for holdin' this pow-wow?" he asked, not hiding his annoyance.

"Just a few points about this afternoon" he answered, catching Westcott's eye. Whereupon he suggested to the sergeant that they should take a look around.

"Warren" began Ashman, "If we're flying today I hope you made it clear that it's got to be in daylight. You know the problems we're up against in this country at night."

Lynch had heard him out until the sergeant had left through the door and then in silence had held up his hand, stopping Chuck in mid-sentence. Still holding it up he crossed to the door spying out what the two soldiers were doing and checking that the sergeant was continuing to be walked away by Westcott.

"Okay, this is the dope. So listen hard" ordered Lynch wrenching his hat off showing a grey-fringed bald head. "It looks like that garrison commander hombre, Major… Major…

"Blanco" helped Underwood.

"Ya! Blanco" continued Lynch. "Well it looks like he's jumped the reservation. From what me and Grieg could see down in the town, he's using the threat of an attack by the rebels as an excuse to rob the joint. There's bodies all over the place. At the bank we found it empty. Then we saw why. Everyone who worked there was put against a wall in the backyard and gunned down. It was the same at the post office, safe open, and cash gone. Everyone killed."

"Well what's his crummy game?" This is his country" interrupted McCann.

"Grieg tells me this guy's from the south. Doesn't like all these Indians up here" explained Lynch.

"That's right" confirmed Underwood, "Hates their guts."

"So it looks like him and his soldiers are robbin the place so they can blame it on the rebels when they get here" Lynch paused to let this sink in.

"So what happens with us?" asked Brufal.

"According to Blanco he's gonna use us to fly out important government people, documents and such. Some of his boys picked us up and we spent three hours at his headquarters having this explained in some detail. But we ain't buying it." Lynch paused to look around at everyone, "Me and Grieg figure the passengers will be him and some of his boys and the paper, cash they just heisted from the town."

"Ya! Well, like I said, where's that leave us?" Brufal pressed shrugging his shoulders.

"It could leave us in deep trouble" answered Lynch with a scowl. "Once Blanco and his gorillas get their hands on us things could get black. We don't know where he might make us fly to, or what plans he has for us and the aircraft when we get there. So, we're getting out, now!"

"You mean your aircrews Warren?" asked Sambrook, ash falling from the cigarette in his mouth.

"I mean the whole station. You, Grieg, everybody. We're vacating this place to somewhere safe until the dust settles."

"It'll take a while to dismantle the radio and pack the office up" Underwood announced.

"The hell with that. All of you are leaving here with what you can stuff in your pockets and nothing more. Those three palookas out there ain't here to look after the place. They're here to ride shotgun on us. Make sure we're around when Blanco turns up. We're quitting this dump with the store open." Lynch was jabbing hard at the air with a straightened finger.

"What's Grieg say about it?" asked Sambrook, "There's a lot of gear and personal stuff you're asking us to dump."

"Westcott agrees with the idea, and so would you, right off if you had seen them killings. We're skippin' this place with the shirts on our backs and damn lucky if we do. Now, from here on no rushing around, we don't want to give those three goons the notion we're in a hurry to go anywhere. In ones and twos start drifting over to the bunkhouse and all you bring out of there is cash and passports." Lynch's finger was now pointed at the floor like a pistol.

"You got a plan on how we can get Amy and Rosie into the air without them soldier boys knowing we're taking off" asked Chuck Ashman, referring by nickname to the two aeroplanes, "Lynch's the Santa Amelia and his the Santa Rosalia."

"Ya I have. I'll get around to you all and let you know how. But right now let's start getting ready to kiss this place off." Biting his words off, Lynch turned to his co-pilot, "Mal, you and Jimmy get out to Amy, start the pre-flight checks and open the radio. Chuck you do the same with Rosie but take her down to the fuel-up point. Make like you're taking juice on board but point your nose for the runway and be ready to take her off."

Looking work occupied, heeding Lynch's words, the Americans unhurriedly prepared their getaway. Taking their time, Ashman and Palinski checked the outside of the DC2 before boarding to run through their pre-flights then start the engines. As Frenchy Brufal secured anything loose in the cargo hold, they taxied the Douglas down to the hand pump refuelling shack. Soon after, they were joined by Sam Sambrook and Albert Crayford, looking as if they were there to give needed assistance.

In the office Cyril Underwood was chit-chatting over the radio with Mal McCann in the Santa Amelia and Palinski in the Santa Rosalia. Grieg Westcott, who had returned with the sergeant, was entertaining him with more bottled beer. On the veranda the two soldiers were also in the middle of their second. Elsewhere, except for the Americans, there was no activity. It was siesta; all the airfield hired hands had found shade to doze in. Even Pedro and Maria had returned to their backroom.

Some minutes after Warren Lynch had ambled out to assist McCann in tuning up the engines of the Boeing, Grieg Westcott made an excuse to the sergeant about having to leave him for a short spell to collect something from the bunkhouse. This left Cyril Underwood, busy talking over the radio, as the only American in the room. Soon he too was called away from his desk by Warren Lynch asking over the radio for him to fetch a spare parts inventory list. "Momento por favour amigo" said Underwood waving a sheet of paper at the sergeant as he crossed the lounge towards the door.

The sergeant remained seated for a short while finishing his beer, then stood up to investigate the office. Studying the desk's contents while listening to the gringo radio talk he glanced through the reed shades. Two hundred metres in front of the building, the Boeing, shining a sheet of silver reflections from its unpainted wings and body, was turning about towards the runway. Halfway towards it, Underwood, the sheet of paper still in his hand had begun to run. Three hundred metres to the right, Westcott, who said he was going to the bunkhouse had almost reached the Douglas.

With his commander's order that he was to see the Americans did not leave in their aeroplanes until he said they could, thundering in his ears, the sergeant grabbed up his rifle from a table and ran onto the veranda shouting at his two men to shoot the gringos. One without question, cocking his rifle brought it into his shoulder and fired at Underwood. The other taking aim at Chuck Ashman's Douglas fired a round that struck its fuselage. Ashman who had turned his aircraft so he was able to have the office building and Warren Lynch's Boeing both in view through his side pilot's window, immediately shouted down to Sambrook and Crayford, "Get aboard!"

The two men who had been faking preparations to refuel couldn't hear the pilot's order above the engine roar but they had seen the rifle pointed and fired their way. Releasing the hand pump and throwing down the hose both ran for the open aircraft door.

Jimmy Rankin, waiting in the Boeing door, on seeing Underwood collapse to the ground jumped down to help. With a bullet shattered right leg Underwood hobbled and crawled until Ranking helped him up. Leaning heavily the clerk hopped on one leg to the plan door where he was lifted and pushed inside. McCann, who had left his co-pilot seat to help, shouted up to Lynch to get the aircraft moving. "Gun it Warren. Get us outta here!"

"Shake a leg Chuck" shouted Frenchy Brufal on the DC2 to his pilot, as a second bullet broke one of the square passenger windows. "Those grease-balls are puttin holes in us!"

"We're pointing for a downwind take off Chuck" hollered Palinski from the co-pilot's right hand seat, catching sight of the station windsock flying from a pole to one side of the airstrip.

"With bullets comin' our way we go not choice!" cried back Ashman, ordering "Release the rear wheel brake and keep your eyes on the ground speed gauge.

Advancing the throttles of the two engines simultaneously, Ashman set the aircraft taxiing at its top speed for the take-off strip.

At the office building all three soldiers had turned their attention on Lynch's Boeing. With the aeroplane still swinging about to race after the Douglas, the soldiers fired at the plane, cocked a fresh round into their rifle chambers as they ran forward, then stopped, re-aimed, and fired again.

Its approach unnoticed, the sergeant suddenly found himself enveloped in a thin cloud of dust as an open car skidded to a halt beside him. Standing in the back with a face black with anger was his commander, Major Blanco. Arriving behind him were three other vehicles, two cars and an open truck filled with soldiers.

"The gringos are trying to run away with their aeroplanes my commander" called out the sergeant.

The officer, seeing his means of escaping the advancing rebels with his stolen booty, selected accomplices and women, about to leave him stranded, he turned to wave the truck with its load of armed soldiers in pursuit of the Boeing, shouting, "Go after the planes. Make them stop!"

The aircraft, sluggish in gaining speed, the truck was swiftly alongside, the troops, eight of them, standing less than thirty metres off fired round after round at the pilot's cockpit. Inside, with bullets striking the co-pilot's starboard side Lynch was increasing thrust on the engines in a bid to outpace the truck. Reaching the airstrip he eased back the throttle on the port engine to swing the nose around to begin his take-off run behind the Santa Rosalia, that, a quarter of a mile ahead was just beginning to lift its tail off the runway.

At this moment a shot smashed McCann's side window. Then a second came through the body hitting the co-pilot in the side of his jaw spraying teeth and blood over the instrument panel, continuing on to splinter the forward pilot window. An instant later the plane lurched to the left as a tyre was shot out. Lynch frantically worked the throttle controls, battling to keep the aircraft on a straight heading. When the deflated tyre struck a shallow pothole he lost it, causing the whole plane to slew to the left off the airstrip. Desperate to regain control and at the same time shake off the soldiers in their truck, Lynch kept the Santa Amelia turning in a wide circle. With one hand working both engine throttles, the tail swishing one way then the other, the aeroplane weaved a shaky path back around towards the packed earth runway. Glancing at McCann who was slumped in his seat clutching his wound with hands flooded in blood, the pilot's head was bobbing back and forth trying to see out a window a bullet had turned to frost. With so much of his visibility impeded, and he disorientated as to his exact whereabouts off the runway, the storage hut which he struck with his port wing he never saw until spinning in a half circle to a halt, the end six feet of wing bent into the air like the lid of a cardboard box.

"Come on Frank! Call it out" shouted Ashman to his co-pilot as he increased speed. With the tail up at full charge down the runway a following wind was making things awkward, taking all his concentration in keeping the DC2 at the correct trim for lift off and hadn't the time to monitor his speed.

"Eighty… Eight-five…" began Palinski,, gluing his eyes to the ground speedometer.

With one hand gripping the control stick, Chuck evenly advancing both throttles with the other, their speed steadily building, his feet resting on the trim peddles, prepared to correct for any sudden gust of wind pressing their tale too far the wrong way.

"Ninety-five… a hundred…" continued Palinski, his eyes not leaving the instrument panel.

"You're running out of dirt, Chuck." Sam Sambrook was crouched in the cockpit door hanging over the two pilots' shoulders.

"Go strap yourself in Sam" advised Ashman without turning. "A crash always hurts more when you see it coming."

"One ten… One fifteen…" Palinski's voice was rising as the speed increased.

"That should do…" Ashman was heard to say as he brought the control column back lifting the Douglas's nose into a climb, skimming above the jungle treetops at the end of the runway and out over the valley.

"Get the wheels up Frank" ordered the pilot as he, maintaining to climb, began to bank the aircraft around.

"Can anybody see the boss?" "Has he got off yet?" shouted Palinski touching the brake pedals to check the wheels spin as he pumped the handle that raised them into their flight position.

"Damn! Damn to hell!" swore Warren Lynch reaching across to release his co-pilot's seatbelt. His plan to get away failed, the aircraft disabled with both engines stalled, what concerned him now was getting McCann medical attention.

As he climbed from his own seat to pull the injured co-pilot out of the cockpit Spanish voices were heard shouting from outside followed by hammering on the fuselage.

"Get the door open Ranking before those gun happy maniacs start shootin' again" called the pilot over his shoulder as he laid McCann in the aisle between the passenger seats.

When the door was opened rifles were thrust through and orders shouted.

"They want us out boss" called Rankin.

"Do what they say then" advised Lynch taking down the medical pack from its compartment.

With Rankin helping the wounded Underwood off, a soldier climbed aboard and began shouting and gesturing for the other two Americans to also leave the plane.

"Si! Si! Momento! Momento! Answered Lynch angrily. Now crouched over McCann applying a bandage to his bloody lower face.

But this wasn't good enough for the soldier. Pulling himself up the sloping aircraft aisle he grabbed Lynch's shirt, yanking him away from McCann, shouting, "Baje usted de este avion!"

Lynch, resisting, struck the hand away, returning to complete dressing McCann's wound. Only to be stopped and made to change his mind by a rifle butt striking his back then the muzzle pushed in his face. Herded against the Boeing's tail, McCann and Underwood slumped down, Rankin and Lynch standing, they were held at gunpoint as the Major, who, arriving in his car approached them after first inspecting the damaged wing.

"Look here buster! What the hell's got into your trigger-happy goons? We had a deal to fly some of your people outta here and in the middle of our warm-up drills we start getting shot at." Lynch couldn't speak Spanish and Blanco didn't know any English. Even so the American voiced himself with conviction hoping to pass off what had just happened as an unfortunate misunderstanding.

Blanco, tall with a thin black moustache stopped before the American; his eyes glaring hatred. With one aeroplane flown off and the other crippled, he was now faced with making his getaway from the rebels, who had appeared on the town's north riverbank just an hour earlier, by joining the rest of his command in fleeing south along a dubious jungle dirt road. Pulling a revolver from a holster on his hip, without uttering a word he shot Lynch in the centre of the forehead. Then turning the gun on Rankin, pumped two bullets into his chest. Ordering his men to finish off the other two wounded Americans; he cast his eyes upwards to glower at the Douglas circling above him.

"God almighty!" cried out Palinski releasing his seat belt to raise himself up for a clearer look.

"Damn! Damn!" blurted out Ashman in shocked disbelief, sliding onto his neck the radio headphones he had a minute earlier been trying to call up the Santa Amelia with. Banking at twelve hundred feet in a gradual turn above the airfield, he and the rest had had a clear view of the killings taking place beside the damaged Boeing.

"Cold blood animals. What they do that for? The cold blooded animals!" shrieked Palinski.

"Grieg" called Ashman looking over his shoulder for the station manager and finding his view blocked by Sambrook. "Sam, get Westcott up here."

"Ya Chuck, I seen" said Westcott when he arrived, his voice shaky.

"Okay. So what'da we do?" asked the pilot levelling the aircraft.

"Don't know! Don't know!" replied Westcott rubbing his head in despair.

"Well its sure fire certain we can't do any good for them down on the deck. So our best bet is to hightail it outta here" put in Sambrook with Arizona logic.

"What'd ya say Grieg?" pressed Ashman looking for guidance from the company's senior man.

"You're the skipper Chuck. Just get us away from here pronto. Anywhere safe will do" was Westcott's prompt reply.

"Goin on what's just happened down there no where's safe in this rat-hole country" snapped Palinski, gripped in a fit of torment over those just killed.

"That leaves us two choices, Costa Rica or Panama" spoke up Ashman fumbling for his flight maps.

"There's more Americans in Panama, skip" called out Sambrook.

"Frank turn south-east and take Rosie up to five thousand" ordered Ashman of his co-pilot as he placed his flight maps on his lap. "I'll give you a heading for Panama in just a minute."

--oOo--

Unable to contain her curiosity Ruth McRae stood hanging her head through the open window of the train compartment as it drew into Wuchang Station. On her journey from Hong Kong the train had halted at other stations but this one was special. After so many weeks of travel here she was at last, journey's end. As the train coasted slowly along the platform the engine signalled its intention to stop with a final screeching blast of its whistle throwing out around itself a cloud of white steam. When the creaking and grinding of the carriages in motion fell silent the platform became alive with second and third class passengers flooding onto it. Carrying babies, young children, bundles, baskets, suitcases, the young, the old, the fit and the weak, swarmed across the station seeking out exits to make their presence there as brief as possible.

"I'll accompany you to the baggage car and see your belongings collected" volunteered a woman standing behind Ruth.

"Yes. Yes. Of course, thank you" she replied turning to find, except for themselves, the compartment empty, the other four occupants, two French arms salesmen, a silk merchant and a Methodist missionary, already gone.

The woman was Pamela Marriott, a well travelled American who had lived in Europe for several years before writing a book that had provided her with the funds with which to come to China. Well into her thirties, dark and slim but not pretty, when she spoke it was with the abruptness of a gym mistress. Earning her living at present as the China correspondent for a Paris newspaper, she had been bumped, because of the war, first out of Peiping then Shanghai, then Nanking and was now returning after a short visit to Hong Kong, to Hankow where she for the time being had settled.

At the baggage car, steamer trunks, chests, and suitcases of all sizes were being removed and lined up on the platform for claiming.

"Those are mine, Pamela. That one and that one" Ruth pointed out a small travelling trunk and a large suitcase. So unfamiliar with journeying in a foreign land she was more than grateful the other woman was taking in hand the conveying of her luggage.

"Ee. Erh" she called out in Chinese pointing in turn at two of a group of poorly dressed men stood hovering nearby. Leaping forwards the trunk and suitcase indicated to them were hurriedly snatched up onto shoulders.

At the station entrance they and the luggage took to rickshaws for the short journey to the floating riverside ferry jetty. Purchasing halfpenny tickets, on boarding Pamela took Ruth to a bench seat in the bow of the ferry where on casting off she began explaining the layout of the city to her newly-arrived Canadian friend.

"Hankow is really three cities, the Wuhan cities" began Pamela waving an arm in a half circle. "On the south bank we've just left is Wuchang, an all Chinese city. As is Hanyang across the river from it which is made up mainly of the big munitions factory, the only one left in Chinese hands now, and the slum district where the munitions workers and their families live.

Pausing to point out the mouth of a river that joined the Yangtze from the north plains, she drew her hand back and forth over the sprawl of modern buildings that stretched along the north shore for two or three miles.

"Hanyang is separated from Hankow by another river, the Han and of the three its Hankow where all the happenings occur. It was a treaty port but most countries have given these rights up, even though they are still referred to under their old title." Working her way down river Pamela pointed out each district one by one. "First we have the old British Special Concession area, in principle given up to the Chinese; it is still mostly administered by British trading companies. Next to it is what was the Russian area, run now exclusively by the Chinese. Then next to that is the French Concession Zone which they have not given up and run as if it were a part of France. Then we have the old German holding that was taken over by China long ago. And finally there is Special Administrative District Number Four which was Japanese until they abandoned everything last summer with the outbreak of war."

"So! said Ruth pointing as she called out each name to confirm she had them right, "Hankow, Han…yang, and Wacheng."

"Woo…chang" corrected Pamela on the pronunciation. "It's the oldest of the cities. Built around that hill you see in the centre, Serpent Hill."

As Ruth turned to gaze for a moment at the rounded hill rising from the south shore, a sharp gust of chilling wind caused her eyes to narrow. It was late January 1938, the day, speeding through its brief afternoon; darkness was rapidly approaching with the temperature dropping close to freezing. For Ruth this was a jolt as to what she had imagined the climate to be. Of all receptions she had pictured in her mind, none was formed believing she would have arrived on a cold bleak day with a dark overcast sky threatening of snow. Her concept of China was one drawn, like so many other westerners, from what was depicted on popular household dinner-ware of the day showing shy oriental maidens in gardens with weeping willows and trickling streams. Reality was cold drabness, a population tattily clothed and ignorant of hygiene, and smells that scorched the nostrils. Not quite the image she had envisaged when first setting her mind on coming to the country they called the Flowery Kingdom.

The organisation sponsoring Ruth's trip was the one whose newspaper advertisement she had answered the previous autumn, the Chinese Red Cross Medical Commission. When Japan began its ruthless onslaught, China was poorly established with a medical infrastructure. Up to recent years many of those calling themselves physicians had no formal medical training, using homespun healing practices which were in most cases outdated or worthless. The most reliable hospitals, pitifully few, were those operated by foreigners, the majority of these being hospitals and teaching colleges controlled and financed by missionary church organisations. Of the few thousand Chinese doctors with the qualifications to practice modern medicine, most were to be found in or near the large cities and sea ports, where rich patients paid their fees promptly. Therefore it was not surprising when, with the outbreak of full scale war, the Chinese government, in requesting doctors to come forward for service with the army, only a handful were willing to do so. The pay proposed was paltry and there would have been much loss of face by them administering to soldiers who for centuries were thought of as not worth the consideration. Why bother saving the casualties of battles when China has such an abundance of other worthless men readily available to take their place by pressed service.

Because this line of thinking was so prevalent, the care of wounded, in Chiang Kai-shek's Central Government Army as well as those of War Lords and Provincial Governors, was neglected to such a degree that in many formations it was completely absent. However the crippling losses being suffered by China's field armies, in men, through the most minor of wounds, especially among junior officers and NCOs, caused an outcry from the wiser of Chiang's generals for an increase in medical care for the soldiers. Hence, in desperation, with no other sources available, a plea was placed in newspapers worldwide asking surgeons and doctors to come to China's aid.

On responding to the letter accepting her application, Ruth first had to present herself to an office in San Francisco where she was interviewed by an attractive Chinese American woman. She, after examining her crisp new medical diploma and reading two letters of recommendation; that were not asked for but Ruth thought advisable to have along anyway, asked her when she would be available to travel to China. Ironically, on replying, "I'm ready now," she found herself again back aboard a bus making the return journey to Vancouver to catch the first ship leaving the North American west coast for Hong Kong, a Canadian Pacific Princess Liner.

Her farewell to Canada was a spectacular quayside sailing. A curtain of coloured paper streamers trailing from the ship, its horn sounding deep bass blasts, she waved smiling but with tears in her eyes at those on the dockside below who had come to see her off, her mother and father, Jim her brother, his wife Grace and a dozen of her work friends from the hospital.

Christmas was celebrating in Honolulu where a passenger companion went missing. A young English doctor, like herself on his way to China but under contract to a missionary organisation, finding the tropical lifestyle to his liking, didn't rejoin the ship when it sailed. After a brief stopover at Manila the sight of Hong Kong harbour was an immense relief to Ruth, who spent most of the voyage avoiding ship board romances. An attractive young woman, alone on a cruise liner, the male attention she received was overwhelming. Requests to partner her in deck sports and card games, numerous offers to escort her while ashore,, invitations to late evening cabin dates; all of which she refused and one honest to goodness proposal of marriage from an officer of the crew, which she also declined.

Nearing the North Shore the ferry began to manoeuvre for docking, the helmsman bringing its bow around into the current. The Hankow Bund was hardly visible to those on the ferry because of the mass of vessels, mostly refugees from down river, tied to jetties and floating wharfs. Secured to one another, in places four deep, was every manner of craft found on the Yangtze, seagoing junks, steamers, foreign gun boats, sampans of all shapes and sizes, and gigantic log rafts with a shanty village on each housing the tree fellers and their families, their home while awaiting sale to a timber merchant.

"Perhaps I should be waiting on the other side of the river?" suggested Ruth as she and Pamela stood on the Hankow Bund and no-one taking a blind bit of notice of them.

"It would have been the better idea to meet there" agreed Pamela, before asking, "Are you sure that gentleman of yours who met you in Hong Kong said you would be collected by someone on the Hankow side of the river?"

"Positive!" confirmed Ruth, "He did say I would be working under a Doctor Teng but believed him to be out of the city at the moment."

"Mmm! Pity. It would be handy to know who it is you're supposed to be meeting" replied Pamela, her eyes searching through the crowd of people passing along the Bund.

"Pamela, I'm just keeping you" began Ruth concerned that she was becoming a bother to the other woman, "There's no need for you to stay. You have helped enough already and I'm sure whoever is meeting me will be along shortly."

"Nonsense" replied Pamela patting Ruth's arm in mock worry. I couldn't leave you here to be shimmed off by a couple of passing Italian sailors to some Dump Street gin joint."

Not for the first time since making the American's acquaintance her words brought a smile to Ruth's face, once more thanking fate for allowing them to meet. Without her presence and guiding hand, Ruth was certain she would at that moment still be lost somewhere on the other side of the river.

For a further ten minutes they waited,, expectantly following with their eyes every motor vehicle and rickshaw that passed along the Bund. During this time, to their right, a battalion of soldiers in faded blue uniforms took up residence along the riverside. Marching in from the west, on dismissal they each selected a spot on the promenade grass verge or under one of its leafless trees. With neither blanket nor shelter they settled themselves down to spend a winter night under an open sky.

"This looks hopeful" Pamela nodded towards a brown Chevrolet ambulance with red crosses side and rear, that nosed in off the street to brake sharply. The driver a young Chinese not long out of his teens jumped from the cab, hurriedly looking about before walking to the ferry jetty entrance gate. Taking no other notice of the two women than a quick glance, Ruth's hopes of at last making contact with her new employers took another back step.

"Well if that young man isn't here to collect you perhaps he might know who is" speculated Pamela squaring her shoulders.

When the driver returned to his ambulance a few minutes later, still looking about, occasionally rising on his toes to peer over heads, he found the two women awaiting him.

"Are you meeting someone?" asked Pamela in English. Taking a guess that because of the American vehicle and he dressed in western coat and slacks, the young man might understand her.

"Yes, someone from the Hong Kong train. But it appears he has not yet arrived." He did speak English, although slowly as if each word was being thought through.

"He?" repeated Pamela. "A man, not a woman?"

"Oh, no miss" he replied as if an apology. "I am from the Red Cross. I am to meet a doctor, doctor McHay."

"That will be me" spoke up Ruth, "Doctor McRae."

"From Canada?" asked the young man confirming her identity.

"Yes! From Canada" answered Ruth.

"Oh forgive me, miss. I was not told to expect a woman doctor." He begged her pardon giving a stiff bow before introducing himself. "I am Philip Hsueh, sent by Doctor Teng our hospital supervisor."

"Ruth, now that you're in safe hands, I'll get myself off to the apartment" excused Pamela. With Ruth's luggage loaded into the ambulance she was jotting something down on a piece of cigarette packet. "Here. This is my telephone and address. In a day or two, when you're settled, give me a call. We'll have lunch somewhere."

Driving west along the Bund, Ruth settled herself in the front passenger seat relieved to be at last with those she had sailed clear across the Pacific Ocean to serve. Now, hopefully without worry or hindrance she could get on with the job she had volunteered for, doctoring China's sick and injured.

"What do you do at the hospital Philip?" asked Ruth lifting a hand to stifle a yawn. She had not slept well on the train the night before, sitting dozing with her head pillowed by her bedding valise.

"Oh, this and that" replied Hsueh. I drive mostly, collect needed things, take people to places."

"You're not part of the hospital medical staff then?" Although getting dark Ruth was sat forward taking in everything to be seen along their route.

"No miss" explained Hsueh. "I was student at university. When Japanese began bombing city many of us looked for ways to help fight. Some join army, some took work in gun making factories, because I drive I was asked by my uncle, Doctor Teng to take job with Red Cross."

"Is it a big hospital you're taking me to?" asked Ruth.

"Not hospital, school" informed Hsueh turning north off the Bund into a wide straight running street.

"School! A School?" Ruth not sure she had heard right questioned his meaning.

"Yes. School miss" confirmed Hsueh wiggling a finger at the street in front." We are in Japanese old special area. When they leave, much property was left empty. Red Cross now have school for hospital.

On they drove for another two streets then they turned again into an avenue where after a minute or two Hsueh swung off through an open gate set in a lengthy, ten foot high wall. With the Chevrolet now following a driveway, Ruth found herself in what appeared to be the grounds of an estate. Backing onto the wall they had just passed through where several houses and bungalows that faced out towards miniature parkland of pathways, twisting through broad, tree-lined lawns and gardens. At the top of these enclosed grounds, masking most of the north wall was a large two storey building with a black tiled roof and horned eaves. Taking the ambulance to the rear of this, Hsueh drew to a halt on a cobblestoned play yard where three open backed trucks were being readied to move.

"Ah miss" uttered Hsueh in regards the activity. "There is work tonight."

Before Ruth could enquire why, the young driver switched off the engine and climbed from the ambulance.

Stepping onto the cobbles she stood beside the vehicle, gripping the strap of her purse in both hands as a European approached giving Hsueh news and instructions while he walked.

"Philip. Bit of a do on. Your uncle's just phoned from the station. Seems my good colleague's rustled us up a trainload of wounded he found at Chengchow." In his late forties with a well-filled reddish face, he spoke with an Irish accent. Holding a cigarette in one hand, he was buttoning his coat with the other. "Now quick about it, let's have you driving the Thornycroft up to the station. We'll be having a job and a half getting them here before the evening's gone, we will."

"Yes! Yes!" acknowledged Hsueh while pointing an arm towards Ruth. "Doctor Tyrrell I have brought the new doctor. A woman doctor."

"McRae. Ruth McRae. How do you do?" greeted Ruth, introducing herself.

"Very well indeed my dear" replied the Irishman turning towards her, still buttoning his coat, putting the cigarette in his mouth to raise his hat from a bald head, before using it to wave Hsueh off. "Go on Phillip lad. Get yourself to that lorry and start it running."

"I'm Daniel Tyrrell, doctor of Irish medicine, retired Royal Navy" he informed her replacing his hat to extend his hand, smiling cheekily. "And the angels themselves have made this my lucky day. You and I are to share a bungalow."

"Oh… Oh! Re…really" stuttered the Canadian as her hand was being pumped up and down, unsure of the Irishman's meaning of sharing.

"Now my darling, do you drive?" asked Tyrrell.

"Uhh… Yes" answered Ruth the question adding yet more bemusement.

"Marvellous! Marvellous!" replied Tyrrell. "Don't myself. Never could see the advantage of a vehicle without a tailed animal out front pulling. I say if God wanted us to go faster on this sweet earth of his he would have given us all wheels instead of legs." As the Irishman spoke he took Ruth by the elbow guiding her around the ambulance to all but lift her into the driver's seat.

"Lo… Look. What is this? What… What are we supposed to be doing?" asked Ruth questioning why she was suddenly sat with a steering wheel in her hands.

"You Ruthie my darling are off for a taste of what you volunteered for" informed Tyrrell seating himself in the passenger side of the ambulance before slamming the door and slapping the dashboard. "Now start this beast up and let's be off."

"Doctor, are you sure about this?" I've never driven an ambulance before and this is a new country to me." Ruth never liked being bullied, no matter how amiable it was done, her words sharply spoken, were meant to clarify what she was expected to be doing.

"Sure now and we have a trainload of wounded soldiers to collect and no-one else about who can drive one of the only means of bringing them here and that Ruthie my love is the up and down of it." Tyrrell, after throwing his finished cigarette out the window sat observing over the hood of the vehicle a moment, then his eyes turning slowly stared into hers. "Well! Come on, let's not dally about. There's good men a'dyin'"

"My luggage is still in the back" said the woman looking for the handbrake.

"We'll drop it off at the bungalow on the way out" replied the Irishman as Philip Hsueh drove his truck past them with a dozen nurses and orderlies standing in the back.

The journey from the school to the rail-station Tyrrell used putting Ruth in the picture, explaining the workings of the outfit she had just landed with. The Chinese Red Cross Commission was established and survived on charitable donations, mainly from abroad and except for the doctors and surgeons, those working for it received no, or a very meagre wage, their toil for the most part rewarded with meals and lodgings. And, she found the hospital really was a school. After the Japanese vacated their Zone of Hankow, there was a reluctance to appropriate the emptied properties. The general acceptance being, the war will end soon and the Japanese will be back. However with the mass of homeless refugees increasing daily, Japanese or not, most unguarded properties were soon in occupation.

In the case of the Red Cross and the school, this was a legitimate takeover. Doctor Teng, with all hospitals around the three cities swamped with war-wounded and the injured from air-raids, had asked his friend the Mayor of Hankow for permission to take over the modern, fully equipped Japanese hospital sitting locked and empty. But even the mayor did not dare sanction its takeover, compromising instead by offering him the school.

Teng, Philip Hsueh's uncle, was a qualified surgeon who had practiced at a Pittsburgh hospital for five years before returning to China at the outbreak of war. A week earlier he had left on an inspection tour north of the Yangtze along the Ping Han Railway to assess the methods being used to evacuate ware wounded, and on returning had along the way somehow picked up a trainload of battle casualties.

Reaching the station, Tyrrell directed Ruth through the freight-yard gate to where a number of trucks, cars and ambulances were parked in a jumbled order.

"Right, Ruthie my girl, prepare yourself for a fright. Some of what you'll be seeing may well empty your stomach." With the ambulance halted, Tyrrell gave the warning as he stood beside its open door removing his coat and hat, casting them onto the seat.

"I'll be fine doctor" retorted Ruth curtly. Taking offence at the Irishman's assumption that she lacked the required fortitude needed. "I spent three months working night casualty reception duty in a Vancouver hospital."

"Aa…Ha" replied Tyrrell looking sideways as he swung the ambulance door shut.

With Ruth at his heels Tyrrell weaved his way through the parked vehicles to the rail-yard. On their left was a long freight shed with a loading platform running its full length, in company with the yards near set of rail-lines. In the marshalling yard itself stood rows of freight cars, the furthest half hidden by the night's early darkness. At the edge of the first set of tracks a casualty sorting station was being run. In the centre a man, Chinese, slightly built and in his late thirties, wearing a quilted military jacket and civilian trousers was directing those injured to several different gather points.

"That's the man you're wanting to see" called Tyrrell to Ruth over his shoulder without slowing his pace.

"Patrick! Patrick!" he called out.

The other man, examining a patient just carried to him on a blanket by two hospital orderlies, looked around "Daniel, Good! Good! You're just in time." Then to the orderlies in Chinese. "Put him over there. He may live" pointing to an area of stone paving where others lay. To their right another group, crippled with wounds but able to walk were scrambling over each other to scoop water from a trough.

"Patrick, we've had a new addition arrive the minute. Miss Ruth McRae, doctor from Canada" introduced Tyrrell with a backward pointing thumb.

"Welcome Doctor" greeted Teng, directing a hobbling soldier with half of one foot missing towards another group huddled against a wall. "I'm Patrick Teng the hospital supervisor. You have come at a timely moment. We will talk later but now your assistance is much needed. I discovered this train of wounded standing in a siding to the north. Their injuries were not recent but after commandeering an engine and setting off for Hankow we were fired on by diving enemy aeroplanes. Many were killed and many more are now suffering fresh wounds."

"Nephew!" he called out to Philip Hsueh as he passed. Halting him to point at a cluster of squatting wounded. "We will take those to the hospital in your truck. As soon as they are aboard come and tell me. I will come with you back to the hospital. We must begin operating without delay."

Needing no reply he turned back to the two doctors. "Daniel, take over here with the sorting. I will send the trucks back to you once they have emptied. Those for immediate operation send along first. Any walking wounded leave until last but there'll be damn few of those; they've had no food or water for days. The hopeless cases lay along the goods platform and the dead, if you find time, gather together for disposal by the city sanitation squads."

Ruth's heart skipped a beat when Teng turned his eyes to hers. "Doctor McRae, I'm so sorry you are receiving your baptism of fire at such an early period. However your coming is most fortunate. Will you please take charge of clearing all the wounded from the train, with the priority of seeing that only those who look as if they can be saved are removed first?"

"Certainly Doctor Teng, I'll do anything asked but I'm not prepared. I didn't bring my bag; I've no stethoscope or even a thermometer." In an unintended show of frustration Ruth's arms rose outwards from her sides.

"None of that, you'll find doctor, will be necessary. The state that those poor wretches are in you will be able to tell at a glance who is worth saving and who hasn't a ghost of a chance of pulling through." A flashlight Teng had been holding he offered to the Canadian. "Take this."

Upon called by Phillip Hsueh that he was ready to leave, Teng gave the doctors one last set of instructions before departing. "When you have finished here get back to the hospital with all speed. Your services will be needed there even more so than here."

Ruth still not quite with it, incapable of movement, stood staring across the marshalling yard at the thin stream of injured being carried or hobbling on their own out of the darkness, until prompted by Tyrrell. "Take a deep breath my pretty doctor and then get yourself on."

Following two orderlies, one with a blanket, she set off across the rail yard, tripping on rail tracks and over switch cables. Hidden by a line of freight cars she came upon another connected to an engine that periodically gave off squirts of steam. Because of the dark it wasn't until she was actually beside it that she realised this was the wounded's hospital train. A mixture of freight cars, flat decks and low-sided bulk ore carriers, at a glance there was perhaps ten in all. Reaching the first, an open-doored freight car, she stopped to shine her flashlight in.

Of the short time that Ruth had spent in the country she had learned one odious reality that all Chinese cities heaved of repugnant smells. Hankow was no different but as the doctor craned her head through the door a far more powerful odour issuing from inside caused her to reel back coughing. Feeling for a handkerchief in her pocket she pressed this to her nose and mouth before again venturing to the door. In the beam of her flashlight shone back and forth across the car floor she found it covered with bodies. Some, in response to the light raised their heads, one sitting against one side lifted a hand to shield his eyes, most though stirred not a hair.

Stopping an orderly, with hand gestures she got him to give her a leg boost up into the freight car, then picking her way through the tangle of sprawled forms, began an evening in which she found herself playing God. Selecting those whom she thought would survive movement to the hospital and an operation afterwards, while others, judged hopeless, were left for what life remained to ebb away. On beginning her examination she very soon discovered the source of the lung choking smell. From the state of the wounds it was clear these soldiers had suffered unattended for anything up to a week. All injuries were septic, each man, filthy with body grime lay in their own excreta, some were sealed to the plank floor with their own congealed blood. All this adding to the general stench that had felled the doctor backwards when first peering in. But what blighted the air most, was the result of something Ruth had only witnessed once in her short medical career, contracted by a cougar mauled hunter on Vancouver Island and not rescued for five days, gangrene. As she examined each man under the light of her flashlight the sweet sickening stench of this creeping death, seeped with every breath through the handkerchief and into her lungs.

Returning to the doorway she began stopping the orderlies, and although not speaking a word of Chinese, somehow getting the first two to climb into the car and move patients she indicated to the door where other orderlies could take them away. Up until this point it appeared to Ruth that there was no co-ordination in collecting the wounded. Orderlies were haphazardly searching through the cars for anyone alive who they thought would live long enough to reach the hospital. In time she had them working to a system reporting to her as she worked her way up the train, clearing the cars one by one.

As she progressed there was hardly a car that didn't reveal a sight of horror more hideous than the last. A man whose lungs were drawing breath, not through his nose or mouth but through a gaping putrid hole in his chest. Another, with no legs and one arm pulling himself towards her for help with the aid of his remaining hand.

At one point in the evening, losing patients at the slowness in which it was taking her and the orderlies to clear one of the open ore cars, she went seeking help.

"Daniel! Daniel! This won't do. The orderlies are working flat out but we're not moving these men quick enough. I've got to have more pairs of hands."

"You'll not get any help here. Only our own nurses and orderlies from the hospital." Tyrrell answered Ruth while kneeling over a soldier applying a tourniquet to a recent leg wound.

"Well how about those men, they don't seem overly busy?" she asked, spying a squad of soldiers with Red Cross armbands sorting through the walking wounded.

"You'll get no help there my darling doctor" replied Tyrrell, finishing the tourniquet to stand." "They're from the Army Medical Service. Here to claim a small number of the wounded who, to be sure will survive. It makes their records look good. The really bad ones they won't handle with a barge pole."

"What! Exclaimed Ruth, "Well why let them do it?"

"Because it will mean less for us to be caring for" replied Tyrrell.

"Oh my God!" exclaimed Ruth in exasperation, her eyes searching around the yard for any other likely source of help. "Well how about those there? They seem to be doing nothing."

"Those! The chances are very slim" dismissed Tyrrell of eight or ten station yard coolies huddled for warmth around a pile of cotton bails on the platform, idling their time by watching the proceedings or dozing.

"But surely if we ask… After all these are their own soldiers" prevailed the Canadian.

"Ruthie my girl; this is China. Outside the immediate family you'll find compassion here a rare virtue" informed the Irishman, adding "And on top of that there is their amusing belief here about if you partake in the saving of someone's life, you are responsible for that person's wellbeing for the rest of yours."

"Well that's crazy" fumed Ruth. "Is there no way they would help?"

"You could offer them money. They're not above foregoing their superstitions for that, I'm sure" suggested Tyrrell pushing his hands into his trouser pockets.

"You're kidding?" snapped Ruth, appalled at the idea. Then after a think, "How much would they take?"

"Fifty cents a man and they'll slave all night" proposed the Irishman, enjoying the newcomer's introduction to China's ways.

Ruth pondered this for some moments until swayed by the thought of the mountain of misery that awaited her attention at the rail cars. "Alright, I'll do it. Can you speak to them and… oh hell! My purse is in the ambulance." The Canadian smacked a hand on her thigh as she remembered.

"You're out of luck then girl" informed Tyrrell." Teng took it with him when he went off to the hospital."

"Damn! Damn! Damn!" cursed Ruth through clenched teeth turning about to storm back across the rail-yard. "Damn country. Damn people. Damn, bloody damn!"

It was almost three hours before she returned again, her steps slow from tiredness, to find Tyrrell, this time dressed in his hat and coat awaiting her.

"Finished?" he asked.

"Not completely" she replied in a drained tone. "I couldn't ask the orderlies to bring away the dead. They've done enough."

"And you Ruthie?" praised the Irishman solemnly, "You've got grit. I'll give you that."

"I don't understand it" she began, staring at the ground while taking off her blood-coated gloves to wrap them in her handkerchief. "Most of them were just boys, some almost children with appalling wounds, and not one cried out. They all must have been in great pain, but for some repeating the word shui-shui over and over again, and the odd moan from two or three, they hardly made a sound."

"Water. Ruth. They were begging for water" enlightened Tyrrell.

"Water. Oh!" replied Ruth, still staring at the ground folding her arms across her body, tucking her hands under her armpits to warm them. The temperature had long since dropped well below freezing point.

"Come, Teng has sent the ambulance back to collect us" the Irishman reached out to take her arm. "We've a great deal to do at the hospital yet."

"I want a bath Daniel" announced Ruth beginning to walk with him. "Never have I wanted a bath more in my life."

"You'll not have a chance of that until near breakfast, I'll mark you" replied Tyrrell hastening to add impishly, "And how's all this comparing with your Vancouver Hospital now?"

"God Daniel" shuddered Ruth giving the Irishman an apologetic glance. "I never dreamt his sort of thing occurred. I feel as if I've been scavenging over a Napoleonic battlefield."

"Aye lass, Aye" comforted Tyrrell stretching an arm around her shoulders. "That you have. That you bloody have!"

CHAPTER 8
The wine is poured now we must drink it.
Marshal Ney – 1806

"David, wait. Hold up" cautioned Mark Ellison, half turning in his kneeling position at the brow of their sampan to signal with a hand.

David Lin, responding to his companion's warning, ceased propelling the craft to let it drift into the rushes. It was a mid-February dawn on the north bank of the Yangtze; light snowflakes were falling from a stone-grey overcast sky that floated on the water's surface for some seconds before melting away. Cold and tired from having spent most of the night crossing from the south shore they were also wet. Strong winds had blown sprays of water off the river's surface over them and the sampan as they fought the current that had swept them four miles down river from their point of starting.

Three days earlier they had fled Nanking walking only at night, trekking south-west then north to arrive at a hamlet on the Yangtze fifteen or so miles up river from the city. Leaving the Safety Zone to strike out into the countryside where Japanese troop presence was still strong was for both men a reckless act, but one each regarded as a gamble that had to be taken.

By the end of December the initial unchecked rule of barbarity; murder, rape, plundering, burning and the wholesale execution of anyone believed to have been a soldier, diminished. Only to be superseded by another, this, an orchestrated reign of terror. Representatives of the Japanese foreign office and diplomatic corps arrived, based in the Japanese embassy, from where it was supposed by the International Committee that they, working with the army would bring an end to the military lawlessness and bloodletting. This hope, seized upon by the Chinese sheltering in the International Safety Zone as well as the committee members was soon dashed. Japan, in recent years had become a militarist state and the army, after being given free reign for so long in Manchuria, was, under no circumstances going to give up to government civic servants any portion of the Chinese mainland they had secured by conquest.

All through January and into February of 1938 the city and people of Nanking were subjected to systematic pillaging and enslavement. Anything of value was either looted or confiscated. Machinery was taken to supplement Japanese war production, steel and iron, torn from buildings was shipped as scrap to Japan. Acting for senior officers, gangs of ronins robbed whole districts of its household possessions for despatch to the officers' own homes as the spoils of war. Women and girls were also gathered up and distributed to military brothels. Work parties were formed as needed and led away to perform whatever labour was on the cards that day, their survival a matter of chance. Sometimes they all returned that evening, at other times none were ever seen again.

Throughout this whole troubled period the Safety Zone Committee members chronicled as many crimes and atrocities as they could, listing only those observed by themselves or confirmed by collaborated statements from a number of witnesses' letters of protest itemising these acts of rape, robbery, arson and murder, were sent to the attaché, Japanese embassy and the army commander of Nanking but none were replied to.

One morning, Mark Ellison accompanied John Rabe, the German Committee Chairman, to the Japanese embassy where he lodged a complaint about their ignorance of his correspondence. While Rabe was being given a lengthy diplomatic brush-off by the vice-consul Mr Tukuyasu Fukuda, in an outer office Mark was approached by an elderly civil servant who had spent five years at their London embassy and was anxious to exercise his English again. In the course of the conversation Ellison asked him when he thought the military would hand over the running of the city to a Japanese civilian body. To this he gave no direct reply looking away instead to comment in a lowered voice, "This government is not the same one, as a young man, I swore faithfully to serve."

"What is it Mark?" called Lin in a hushed voice unable to see beyond the Englishman.

With the first streaks of a day new dawn the two men had just managed to get themselves off the river and were now in a lagoon formed at the mouth of a small tributary. Overgrown with tall winter dead rushes they were making their way to the shore along a narrow canal of yellowed water when Mark gave his warning. Twenty yards ahead, just to one side of the passage was a crashed airplane with Japanese markings.

Peering around a thick clump of rushes, Ellison watched the wreck closely for any sign of life. It was a naval biplane with a large central float undercarriage. Intact but upside down resting with the tail at a forty-five degree angle, the float was mostly out of the water facing the horizon, while the top wing, engine and most of the forward part of the body was submerged.

With Lin coming up behind Mark to observe over his shoulder it was agreed they should investigate. Returning to the single oar at the stern of the sampan, Lin began to cautiously propel the craft forward by yuloing it slowly back and forth in a fishtailing motion. Nearing, a member of the crew was seen half slumped, half hanging upside down in the opening of an unenclosed cockpit, just forward of the tail. Catching hold of a wingtip of the lower wing that spread out a foot above the water, Mark, watchful of any sign of life from the crew members pulled himself and the sampan along it.

"Is he dead?" asked David standing bent forward holding the oar still.

"Very much so" replied Ellison guiding the front of the sampan beneath the cockpit. The crewman wore a leather flying helmet and goggles but Mark could see his eyes were open in a lifeless stare.

"He's the observer; the pilot must be down there somewhere." Mark pointed below the water's surface just in front of the observer's cockpit.

"Mark, what have you found?" asked Lin, puzzled at the Englishman's next action.

"A weapon, we've got ourselves a machine-gun" called back Mark, going down on his knees to reach around the body. Hanging from its ring mounting on the other side of the dead observer was an aerial machine gun. "Hold us still David, I think I can get it out."

Releasing the catch of the gun mount securing pin, it was so heavy Mark almost lost it in the river as it dropped away. Pulling it into the sampan by the barrel, he held it in both hands feeling the weight as he showed it for Lin to see. "What a stroke of luck. We're armed now. We're armed."

"Can you work that thing, Mark?" asked Lin, his voice heavy with doubt.

"Should, I think. At least I'll give it a bloody good go" answered Ellison cheerfully.

In Hong Kong, Livingston's had always encouraged its young employees to join the Territorial Army, Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Force. Complying with this Mark had enlisted in No 3 Company, one of the Vickers machine gun companies. The military knowledge he gained over a period of one year's service was not vast. But in the course of attending two weekends a month and a two week summer training camp held in the New Territories, he had learned a little bit about being a soldier and a great deal about firing a Vickers machine-gun. This Japanese weapon was not a belt fed water cooled Vickers but it did look similar to another some corporals from one of the garrison regular battalion had once instructed them on, the Lewis Gun.

Air-cooled with an ammunition drum the size of a biscuit tin mounted over the breech, for ease of traversing a D-shaped handle was fixed in place of a conventional shoulder butt. Pressing the drum locking catch Mark removed it to turn it over, checking the cartridges and test the weight. "Heavy. There must be seventy or eighty rounds in this."

"Yes but will it shoot?" posed Lin.

Picking up the gun, Mark cocked the working parts then switching the safety catch, squeezed the trigger causing the working parts to spring into the breech with a metallic clunk. "Oh yes" he assured his friend. "It'll shoot alright."

For another half hour the two men remained at the crash salvaging anything of use to them. The observer was cut from his harness with Ellison's pocket clasp knife, and laid in the stern of the sampan. There he was stripped of his fur lined boots and overalls before being shoved with the toe of Mark's shoe over the side.

"And good riddance" spat Ellison, watching with cold satisfaction the body sink from sight. The comment was not nervous bravado but one of deep hatred he had witnessed too many rapes, too many murders, had had to stand too many times without retaliating as he was beaten about the face for stepping in to stop some Japanese atrocities.

"Well at least now if we get picked up we'll be able to take some of the son-of-a-bitches with us." David Lin had removed the observer's pistol from its holster and was examining it admiringly. "What was it Johann Hartmann said? We were fools for going. And if caught by the Japs they'd shoot us down like dogs. Well not now!"

That was three and a half days ago, thought Mark, days that seem now like weeks. Although against them going, it was he who had made their escape from Nanking possible by accompanying Ellison with a smuggled David Lin on one of his afternoon convoy runs outside the city walls to collect rice and fuel at a Safety Zone storage godown. Once loaded they said their goodbyes, after which Hartmann took charge of the convoy for its return journey, while Ellison and Lin hid themselves until dark.

Although both possessed a burning will to go, there escape was more hair-brained than well managed. There was every chance of being caught, which meant a sure death for Lin and without approval for being there, Mark as well for possibly being a spy. It was mid-winter their clothing was inadequate, they had no bedding rolls, they didn't dare seek shelter from anyone for fear of being reported and their food, mostly boiled rice amount to no more than what they could carry in their pockets and a small rucksack of Mark's. Unexpectedly they were able to take shelter during the day in just about any dwelling they chose. While in Nanking stories had reached them of the slaughter the Japanese had inflicted upon the civilian population as they had advanced, which if proven true meant that the deaths mentioned were not in thousands but millions. From what the men had come across so far, destroyed villages, decomposing corpses, it was beginning to look to them as if all that was said was true. From Shanghai to beyond Nanking, one of the most densely populated areas of the world the Japanese army had butchered everyone not nimble enough to avoid their path.

Passing through a land of almost total devastation, it was by sheer luck that they reached a point on the Yangtze where a skiff size sampan was found concealed in thick reeds behind an empty fisherman's hut. For their intention was to cross the river and reach the Chinese army who had checked their retreat on a line running along the northern foothills rising from the Yangtze basin, and enlist as soldiers.

Another mile of threading their way through the rushes and they were forced to dispense with the use of the sampan. Coming upon the river that fed the lagoon, this could have provided a perfect route inland. Several yards wide with a meandering current they could have made good time by following it, except for the danger. It was daylight, the banks were reeded but with very little undergrowth to hide in, exposing them to all eyes. Leaving the sampan to drift they knelt on the bank taking stock of the surroundings. A flat patchwork of dark cultivated land bordered by tracks, pathways, trees and ditches was observed around them to a distance of a mile or so, the limit of their vision due to the light falling of snow and the morning's general gloom.

"We need to find some place where we can hold up and get dry Mark" pointed out Lin, beating his hands on his legs before rubbing them together to generate warmth.

"Bloody right and soon! We can't stay out in this. It's too open" agreed Ellison, standing to lead the way along the edge of a flooded paddy field, its corners iced over.

For over an hour they searched, keeping to covered routes well away from hamlets and large houses. For such a rich land they came across very few peasant farmers, in one field two men pulling a plough while a boy guided it, an old woman cutting grass for fuel and three others digging with their hands for root vegetables. Everyone they saw they steered away from until finding a mat-reed hut in a grove of trees that a small stream ran through. In better times a place to rest and meditate, for on a track close by could be seen a humble, Taoist temple.

That evening, after gaining just snatches of sleep, spending the greater part of the day standing over a small fire drying their clothes, they set off again in what was hoped, a north-westerly direction. Dawn unveiled a thinly clouded sky but with a rising wind that chilled their hands and faces. The layout of the countryside had also changed. It was still farmland but spaced throughout were pine covered hillocks and extending ridges their height no more than a few hundred feet. Here, sharing some of these wooded slopes, the farmers of the districts had built their homes.

As the sky brightened they left the fields to climb to the crest of one of the ridge hills, using the cover its trees provided to walk its length. At the foot at its far end among the last of the trees, they found a village of stone walled houses with thatched roofs that had received a visitation from the Japanese, for most of the roofs were burnt away.

Dog-tired, they hadn't slept for the last thirty-six hours and not for a full night since Nanking; they slumped down in an undamaged ox shed. Mark removed his overcoat from around his neck to pillow his head against one wall. It had been around his neck to stop the harness strap taken from the plane he was using as a sling to carry the machine-gun, from cutting into his shoulders. Lin carrying the rucksack with another two machine-gun drums in, put it behind him to rest against.

"How we fixed for food?" asked Mark in a drowsy voice, his eyes half closed.

"A couple of mouthfuls of rice still in the rucksack but that's all" answered Lin his head dropping back, eyes closing. "Do you want it?"

When Ellison didn't reply David looked at the Englishman to find him asleep and two minutes later so was he.

Considering their lack of it over these last days, this sudden collapse into the sleep of the dead was understandable but despite their posture the two men were not completely sealed in slumber. Since leaving Nanking they had lived on their nerve ends, reacting to every sudden sound and movement, poised to run or fight for their lives in an instance. Living as such, day-to-day under constant threat had stimulated their senses; although the body was asleep there lingered a subconscious alertness.

When Ellison's eyes sprang open he knew immediately where he was and why. Sitting up he listened, something had awoken him… a danger. Lin too had heard it, stiffly straightening, his head cocked also listening. A moment passed, neither spoke, how long they had slept could only be guessed. Then it came, from the main village below then, laughter.

Leaping to his feet, the machine gun that had rested in his lap now held ready, Mark stepped quickly to the shed entrance. With Lin at his side, pistol held, they peered out. At the front of the shed was a low stone wall over which they could see down the track that wound through the village two hundred yards distance on this, marching in single file, was a squad of seven or eight Japanese soldiers in winter uniform, rifles slung, their helmets secured to packs.

"Jap patrol. Looking for us maybe?" whispered Lin.

"They're not searching the village. Just passing through. Let's sit tight" cautioned Ellison.

At the rear of the patrol two young soldiers were having a game, throwing pine sprigs at each other, laughing when they missed. This, carried on the wind was what had woken the two fugitives. As they withdrew within the ox-shed the game on the track was ended by a gruff command from a corporal in the lead.

Time was given for the patrol to move well on before again creeping out to spy their progress, only to find they had halted on the edge of the crop fields, lounging with their packs removed. "Don't like the look of that" said Mark, "They're making themselves comfortable."

"You're right" agreed Lin, "They could start prowling around."

"Let's go back around the village and hide out somewhere on the top of the ridge" suggested Ellison.

Gathering up their belongings, with one eye over their shoulders, Mark led the way keeping close to the upper houses of the village. Midway through they entered a short passage between a house wall and an earth bank. At the end of which Mark stepped into a rear yard area, where ten feet to his front a Japanese soldier, his rifle propped against a wall, stood urinating.

First to recover from the surprise, to cry out a warning, the soldier made a grab for his rifle. Mark, in a fluster, snatching at the gun's cocking level swung it up and squeezed the trigger. The burst of shots struck the soldier as he raised his rifle, spinning him along the wall to collapse on his knees before flopping face down in the yard. Before the gun had stilled another soldier sprang out from around a corner just beyond the first. Firing again, Mark's shots this time missed the man but a bullet catching his rifle somersaulted it from his grip. On the soldier running off, the Englishman instinctively went after him. Stopping at the corner of the wall to fire again he saw his target stumble and fall out of sight behind a stone hut.

"Mark, come on! We'll have to run for it" warned Lin. With Mark in his way, unable to take part in the shooting, he was now pulling at the Englishman's arm.

Back down the passage they ran before turning up the slope. Through the trees they climbed to the summit where Ellison called a halt to catch his breath behind them the village was ringing with Japanese shouts.

"He was there. Right in front of me. From nowhere" gasped Mark. "Must have been left to scout out the place.

"Don't matter, Mark" replied Lin taking in big gulps of breath. "We're in the soup now. We're going to have to outrun those bastards."

Down the reverse slope of the ridge they raced and out into the crop fields. The next nearest hillock that would give them concealment was over a half mile away. Between lay flat, idle land in bleak winter dress. Continuing to run they sped across the snow speckled fields, leaping irrigation ditches, using bordering paths only when they led towards the hillock. When almost out of the last field there was a thump to one side of Ellison where a splat of dirt kicked up, followed by the distant sound of a shot. Three more of these occurred before they reached the trees. Both men realised they were being shot at, were too breathless to shout a warning of it to the other.

Sheltering behind a cluster of standing pines the two men sank to their knees for rest and in relief of escaping unhurt from being fired at.

"They're coming after us" warned Lin snatching in air. Shifting onto one knee as he spotted movement at the base of the ridge they had just left.

"I see them" confirmed Mark, knelt hunched with his head propped against another tree, the machine-gun slung around his neck, hanging out from his body. Just entering the farthest field, advancing towards them in extended order, he counted eight figures. "We'll have to keep moving David. If we try to hide here they'll flush us out."

And so began a chase that lasted into the afternoon. After the first hour neither side was capable of running for long periods. Lin and Ellison could only manage short bursts to stay out of effective rifle range and the Japanese running in short spurts to maintain visual contact. In sustaining this race, both sides were suffering hindrances. The Japanese, sweating it out in full marching order and thick winter dress. Ellison, although strong in the legs was finding the machine-gun heavy and awkward to run with. Lin on the other hand was struggling to keep up with his friend. Weeks of confinement in Nanking had made him feeble as a kitten and the bayonet wound, although healed, was beginning to give him pain.

An advantage in the chase was gained by the Japanese when into the third hour of their pursuit; the corporal halted his men, ordering them to shed their packs and outer garments. Mark began to notice they were closing bit by bit each time he turned to encourage Lin. Which was frequent now because although Mark now carried the rucksack, David was exhausted, very near done in. Crossing one of the longest stretches between high ground they had come to so far their destination this time could prove their salvation. Two miles on was a low range of hills, higher than the ones behind them and dense with wood. If they could reach it there was every chance of losing their pursuers. Making superhuman efforts, Lin forced himself to keep moving but even with one of Mark's arms around him he finally collapsed, his legs made useless with pain and cramp.

Giving Lin the chance to recover, the Englishman dragged him to the corner of a field with a low protective bank. Where, by the time David could again regain his feet the enemy patrol had closed near enough to pin them down with controlled rifle fire. Splitting into two four-man groups, one began to work around their flank to get between them and the hills.

"We were close David. So bloody close" cursed Mark, glancing to the hills just three hundred metres away. "I don't regret leaving Nanking Mark, I only wish now I hadn't taken you along" called back Lin pressing into the bank as bullets cracked through the air above them.

"Bugger!" responded Mark checking the ammunition drums. "We came to fight Japs and that's what we're doing. We killed one already, maybe two. And when they get closer we're damn well going to kill a lot more."

Ellison felt no fear, he was beyond that. Aflame instead with rage that, at last facing the butchers of Nanking on even terms, they just might get him before he got all of them.

The Japanese patrol was closing in now, using well drilled fire and movement tactics. As one group fired to keep their heads down the other would leap up and dash forward fifteen or twenty yards. Mark taking fleeting glimpses saw what was happening but didn't dare fire back. He had no legs on the gun to support his aim, no butt, his only means of replying was to stand, take a rough alignment and fire from the hip. At that moment an act of suicide.

Without at first realising why it was happening, the fire trained their way began to ease and then stop. Which when discovered mystified both of them, until noticing the reason. Coming from the trees they had been making for was a steady rattle of fresh shooting. Stealing glances that way they were heartened to see this fire was directed at the Japanese. Then as they watched, to the left of this source of new shooting a line of armed men broke from the trees at a run. Making for a point that would put them behind the Japanese group that had been working around between the two men they were pursuing and the wood line.

"It's help Mark. They've got to be ours" cried Lin with guarded joy.

"Yes, got to be. Got to be" answered Ellison stealing wary glances at the Japanese to see what effect their appearance was having on them.

With an enemy skirting to their rear, the half patrol nearest the hill turned about to engage them but as this party moved around them even more, in fear of being cut off, they began to bolt back towards their other four comrades; taking the shortest route which would bring them to within fifty yards of Ellison and Lin. Ignoring them as a threat or in the changing circumstances, accepting the risk, stiff backed, rifles at the trail they raced to rejoin the other half of the patrol.

Mark, keeping his head low watched them coming then snatched a quick look to see what the others were up to. All four were occupied in returning fire at the newcomers on the scene, either firing towards the hill or at the party circling to outflank them. Coming up onto one knee Mark stripped off his jacket, wrapping it around the barrel of the machine-gun. When he had gripped it there to fire earlier that morning the heated barrel had all but burned his hand. Then judging his moment he bolted up and let fly with a prolonged burst.

Mark was concentrating on trying to topple the nearest of the four runners to him but struck to the ground instead one beyond with David also standing firing wildly aimed pistol shots, he swung the gun to begin spraying burst after burst in the direction of the other four Japanese soldiers. Naïve in battle wisdom, the two men stood inviting death from rifles held in the prone aim from just a hundred yards, a gift their enemy chose to disregard. With one of his men shot down, machine-gun bullets striking about them and an armed party working around to seal his escape, the Japanese corporal ordered a retreat. Just as Mark's drum ran dry of ammunition, the four enemy furthest away rose from the ground and with the other three at their heels, began racing away.

By the time he had reloaded they were well out of his effective range. At this point in the action the flanking party was seen also to end the engagement going to ground to speed the Japanese away with five or six deliberately aimed shots.

Ellison and Lin now turned their attention to the fallen Jap, advancing towards were he lay. But were not the first to reach him. Two of their rescuers who had turned off from the chase earlier, fell upon him as the enemy soldier lay wounded one rushed up to point a pistol at him while the other struck downwards with three savage blows from a sword. When Mark and David reached the scene, blood was gushing from where head and body once joined.

"Are you solders? Army soldiers?" asked Lin. The question was justified, for although both were garbed in military dress, it was soiled, tattered, and of mixed shade and design. In the process of stripping the body of its equipment and clothing, the two stopped without answering to stare at Ellison.

"Foreign devil" whispered one to the other, "Big nose."

"Are you soldiers of China's army?" asked Ellison in their own tongue, repeating Lin's question while choosing to dismiss the reference to him of big nosed foreign devil. He had heard this passing in the street many times before.

"Pointed Sword. We are Pointed Sword" answered the one with the pistol, in a suppressed tone. Finding being spoken to in his own language by a European disconcerting.

"What is Pointed Sword?" asked Lin after first looking at Ellison.

"Soldiers. We are soldiers" replied the one with the sword, slipping into the dead Japanese's equipment before slinging the rifle across his shoulders.

Their approach catching his eye, Mark looked to see two others of those who had chased the Japanese away, coming towards them at a run. One quite tall with the build and effortless gait of an athlete.

"Corporal Han" called the one with the pistol. "We have found a foreigner."

Slowing to walk the last few paces, Han Chih and his friend Teng Chung-hou ran inquisitive eyes over the two strangers. Han asking them without ceremony, "Where have you come from?"

"Nanking" answered Lin.

"Nanking?" repeated the corporal, "The dwarfs have Nanking?"

"We escaped to fight them. Fight for China." Lin's head rose.

"And the dwarfs let you leave carrying these?" Teng sceptically waggled a finger at their weapons.

"A gift of fortune taken from a fallen dwarf plane" explained Mark speaking slowly to be understood.

Han, who had never been in the presence of a white man before, staring deep into Ellison's brown eyes, made no reply. All white foreigners, he was told as a boy, were either rich or mad. Both of equal height, his eyes continued to search Mark's. If it is true what they say, that they have come to join in the war, then this one obviously is not rich.

Reserving his thoughts, he turned to the soldier with the pistol who was busy stripping the dead enemy of his uniform. "Hurry with that, we must get back into the forest." Then raising an arm he called out to the remaining six men of his squad who had posted themselves three hundred yards off, as a picket to watch the Jap patrol as it continued to flee. "Little Feet, return. Rejoin the others."

"Loyal Monkey" now directing an order to Teng "Take the two strangers back to Blind Ox. I will bring the others. We must leave this place before the dwarfs return in force.

"Come" said Teng, taking charge of Lin and Ellison.

"We thank you for coming so timely to our assistance" offered Lin as they paused to collect the rucksack and spare ammunition drums.

"There was no rescue intended" replied Teng, his eyes fixed to the Japanese patrol now over half a mile distant. "We were waiting in ambush for you to draw the dwarfs into the forest. For the prize was to be their rifles. But when you stopped and it was seen you possessed an automatic gun we could not let it fall into their hands. Otherwise we would have merely watched the outcome."

Just inside the wood they were met by five others, their leader, a man with one eye. A four-inch scar ran up his left cheek to end in a web of pale tissue around the sightless eye. Of these five Mark noted, only four had rifles and as the rest scurried in to join them, not all of these were adequately armed either. In all, eleven only of the fifteen carried rifles, one of those just claimed from a dead enemy, the rest, sported swords or pistols.

As Lin and Ellison rested against a grass banking, awaiting their host's next move, one, gangling limbed with a Japanese sword mounted down his back approached them. "So it is true, a big nose!" he announced to himself. Fastening Mark with a rascally grin, "If only we were at sea. With the ransom you would bring I would spend long days in the fan-tan houses and happy nights with the girls of tiny feet."

Before Mark could fully absorb the remark Corporal Han dispatched the man away. "Little Feet, we're leaving. You and Guard Alone scout the way. The rest of us will follow." Then to Ellison, "That machine-gun you hold, one of my men will take it."

"It would be better if I kept it. I know how to fire it. I shouldn't think any of your men can" objected Ellison, expressing his reason for refusing with typical western logic. This after saying he realised was the wrong reply in every way. This was China, to bluntly disobey meant causing another loss of face.

"The gun is no longer yours to carry. You will hand it over." Han's voice was icy, his command final.

"Yes! Of course! Please forgive such an unwise suggestion" replied Mark removing the sling from around his neck.

For the remaining three hours of daylight the patrol marched through the hills. Close wooded country, they kept in single file, following paths or threading their way through leaf-bare undergrowth. Fortunately for Lin, although the going was an up and down hill labour, the pace was not hurried allowing him to keep up. They slept the night in a cave. A place known to them and believed to be safe, confidently building a fire on the ashes of a previous one. Here water for drinking was boiled in a small pan and what food they had, eaten. Mark and David feasted on that left in their rucksack, for none was offered them.

"Corporal Han, he must be highly trusted by your superiors to be given command of men roaming Japanese held countryside" complimented Lin when the corporal left the fire to visit posted sentries. His remark was intended for Teng but it was the one called Little Feet who answered with hoarse chuckles.

"When we set out on patrol four days ago we had an officer but last night, Slug… Slug… No officer. The sound he made was a deep gargle.

"He led us across a small frozen lake that was not all that frozen" explained Teng. "Went under the ice. Lost."

"What is Pointed Sword?" asked Mark still unclear as to whom they were with.

"Pirate catchers and pirates" guffawed Little Feet settling himself for the night.

"Independent Provincial Brigade from Fukien Province. Their duties were originally pirate suppression. Its ranks were swelled before leaving to fight in Shanghai by enlisting from the prisons. At present we are on guard twenty Li to the north, keeping a watch on the dwarfs. And to delay them should they advance" enlightened Teng more fully.

"We escaped from Nanking to join the army and take our revenge on the dwarfs" disclosed Lin. "Will our joining be possible where you are taking us?"

"That's a decision for our commander to make" shrugged Teng, looking to Mark with a faint grin. "An interesting one in your case foreign devil."

Roused with the dawn light, they reached their destination two hours later. Passing through lazing picket posts stationed on hill slopes and track junctions, the patrol followed a path leading them into a valley with terraced fields climbing the surrounding hills. At one of the first houses on the outskirts of a village that ran snake-like up the winding valley floor, Corporal Han, dismissing his men to rest themselves, entered the house.

On approaching the village it became evident to Lin and Ellison that it and the immediate area were taken up in billeting. Wherever suitable, mat hutments or ramshackle shelters were erected. As the patrol passed the nearer ones, the occupants, their curiosity aroused because of the foreigners with them, had begun to trail behind. On halting this bedraggled crowd of motley clothed soldiers began closing around Mark and David.

"Little Feet" called one. "What catch is this you've brought?"

A fine speaking gentleman and a Big Nose foreign devil" replied Little Feet, standing so all could hear, "We saved their skins from a horde of dwarfs snatching at their behinds." With drawn sword he demonstrated how the Jap patrol was vanquished from the field of battle which drew chuckles, the audience questioning his true participation in the fight.

"Where have they come from?" asked one, not of the two strangers but directing his question generally to the patrol.

"Nanking" answered Teng, "They say they escaped the city to join us in fighting the dwarfs."

This brought forth a spate of approving exclamations and nodding of heads. Followed by one asking, "Do they have names? What are they called?"

Teng, looking to Lin, jerked his head as a signal to speak.

"I am Lin Many Voices" announced David, giving his Chinese name granted by his grandfather at birth.

"And I am also called Lin" declared Ellison, wearying of these questions asked by proxy. "Lin Big Nose. We are brothers."

As Mark winked at David, those pressed around them fell about with laughter. One, gagging the words expanded on the joke, "Yes! Yes! Brothers, Big Nose and Little Nose."

Their merriment over this was brought to an abrupt end by an authoritative voice, "Be silent and stand away."

As the crowd fell back, the patrol that was relaxing stood; an action that also brought Mark and David to their feet.

"You are the two who say they are from Nanking?" confronting them with an iron steady gaze was a company warrant officer.

"Yes, honoured warrant officer Ch'e" called out Loyal Monkey, coming to attention.

"Shut up oily soldier Teng" growled Ch'e "They have tongues of their own."

As Lin and Ellison both answered Teng, with the trace of a mischievous smile stood at ease.

"I am Warrant Officer Ch'e, First Regiment, Pointed Sword Brigade Company Commander Captain Pai. Fourth Company, First Battalion wishes to see you." Then turning again to Teng spoke this time in a more trusting tone. "Teng, go to headquarters tell them of these two. That one is a white foreigner and both have come from Nanking." With Teng setting off at a jog into the heart of the village, Ch'e motioned, "Come!"

Escorted through the house they emerged in the rear yard where three officers sat at a table beneath a thatched porch eating breakfast. Standing to one side, gripping the sling of his shouldered rifle in one hand was Corporal Han. Telling his charges to sit on a bench against the house wall, Ch'e approached the table.

"I know our army has taken a beating," whispered David. "But I would fear for my country if this was the best of what remained."

"At first sight I've got to agree" replied Mark. "A bit of a hand to mouth outfit."

After a minute conversing with Ch'e one of the officers rose from the table. As he advanced on them followed by the warrant officer, Lin and Ellison stood.

"I am Captain Pai of Pointed Sword Brigade. I'm told you have come from Nanking. How was this possible?" asked the officer with undisguised scepticism.

Lin, introducing who they were, answered his question giving an outline description of their escape, ending by once again repeating the object of their mission, a burning desire to fight the Japanese.

"But you are educated and this English company you work for, would they not have provided you with a secure job for life? I find your eagerness to die on a battlefield one of dismay." The country abounded with spies in the pay of the Japanese; Pai watched Lin's expression closely for the slightest hint of the knave.

"The Dwarfs slaughtered my family" Lin's words were evenly spoken but layered with fury.

"And you Englishman?" the Captain turning sharply on Ellison, "You have no reason at all to fight for China. This conflict is between two oriental nations; you are an outsider. You should be seeking a place of safety with your own kind."

"Honoured Captain" began Mark, his back straightening. "My companion has told you he is here to avenge his family. I too wish revenge for them. For I had eaten from their table. And it was I who buried their butchered bodies."

They continued to be questioned for several minutes with the captain at one stage asking for proof of identity. While Lin could provide none, Ellison removed from a waist money belt a passport, the only document of identity he still possessed. On the point of handing it to the captain this was forestalled by the arrival in the yard of others.

Striding in to stand dominantly with fists planted on his hips was a burly officer with colonel insignias on the collars and left breast of his field coat. With everyone in the yard springing to attention, he gave a quick scratch to his hatless, shaved head, calling Captain Pai to him. Also entering to stand in respective silence behind came an entourage of others. A major, two captains, a class one warrant officer, and a young woman in a plain uniform, whose first gesture was a smile directed towards Corporal Han. The last to follow was Loyal Monkey side-stepping into shadows by the doorway.

The colonel, walking Pai into the centre of the yard, set a hush upon the place as he listened; obtaining from the captain everything he had so far learned of the two curious individuals his patrol had brought in. On completed Pai raised a hand to Ch'e "Warrant Officer bring the two new ones."

Made to quick-step as soon as they halted, Lin and Ellison, without an introduction, found themselves answering questions from the colonel. Where they in Nanking when the Japanese arrived? What happened to the soldiers defending the city? How did the city function under occupation? How easy was it to escape?

The questions were short but required lengthy answers, both men giving full detailed replies. At the end of which proof of identity was asked for.

On Lin pleading possession of none, Captain Pai asked him to verify his claim to have escaped execution by the Japanese. Whereupon David opening his coat, pulled his sweater and shirt aside to show his bayonet scar. Mark held his passport out but neither officer reached for it. Instead the captain called out to the young woman to come forward. On being told to inspect the document, during the exchange their eyes met, surprising Mark who had expected something sterner. Genteel, she had a soft facial complexion, the sign of a sheltered upbringing away from sun-scorched fields and dark, smoke-filled dwellings.

"Colonel Lung, Sir" she began after studying the first pages verifying her ability to read and speak English by proclaiming "This is an English passport of the person of Mister Mark Ellison."

Glancing at the Englishman's passport photograph in the document the young woman held up for his inspection, Lung, looking first at one then the other challenged "Have you truly come to fight?"

Despite their replies confirming this, Lung was not wholly convinced of their worth, poising further questions regarding their intentions. First to Lin and then Ellison. "You. You are an educated man. What are you expecting, to be made an officer on the spot? And you Englishman. You have no loyalty towards our country, what should be done with you?"

"It would be an insult to assume I am equal of your own skilled commanders, honoured Colonel" quickly denied Lin "All I ask is to join the ranks so I may fight the accursed Dwarfs."

"And I too ask no more than that" added Ellison.

"They are city men with soft hands and leather shoes, Captain Pai. Can you see them as recruits in your company? Better we offer them to Slow Boil to train as cook boys." Ellison, watching the colonel closely failed to tell if his comments were cynical humour or meant.

"True Colonel, they are not of material to mould into iron. But they have hatred in their heart." Pai fixed his eyes to the roof of the house as he spoke.

"What say you Helmsman?" Lung's question was to the warrant officer.

"They have two arms, two legs, two eyes to see by." Ch'e did not disguise his meaning. He had seen better and worse.

Hands clasped behind his back, Lung, taking slow measured steps strode off a short distance to discuss the matter privately with Pai. Returning a few minutes later his stride brisk, voice firm.

"You shall have your wishes" he announced "You may have dreamt of joining a Central Army Division with smart uniforms and full bellies but you will pay thanks to your ancestral spirits for guiding your path to us instead you are now soldiers of Pointed Sword.

He finished giving a word of warning to Ellison. "Englishman, a white foreigner serving as a Chinese soldier is not a common sight. Do not be surprised if a General should claim you as a showpiece for his headquarters."

Their enrolment which followed was not lengthy. Taken to a hut outside the house by Ch'e, they were given, as a uniform issue, one peaked cap each, a faded blue shirt and quilted jacket for Mark, and a quilted Jacket for David. All these articles, taken from a large reed basket, were soiled, threadbare and, they shortly learned, verminous. Their weapon allocation was similarly frugal. Lin was allowed to keep the pilot's pistol Corporal Han returned to him after the colonel's interview. Whereas Ellison was handed by the company quartermaster storeman a sword and scabbard.

"I have trained as a British soldier. I'm familiar with the firing of rifle and machine guns" Ellison informed Ch'e viewing the sword he held in outstretched hands. At pains for his word not to sound a protest.

"And I, Honoured Warrant Officer have fired sporting rifles many times while in America" added Lin.

This is not some rich foreign country" snapped Ch'e. "Firearms don't rain on us from the sky. Be satisfied with what you're given."

Told they were now members of the second platoon, Teng led them to their billet, a number of mat shelters scattered under a grove of willows by a stream bank. In little groups, the men stood or squatted near small fires most smoking crude pipes. Some Mark recognised from the patrol who rescued them. All fell silent as he and David were brought into their midst.

"Loyal Monkey. Bring them here." This call came from the young woman who had examined Ellison's passport. She and Corporal Han were sat at the entrance to one of the shelters sorting through an army backpack.

"It was inappropriate to introduce myself earlier" she began, standing as they arrived before her "I am Miss Chou but everyone calls me Still Willows. I am part of Pointed Sword's Warfront Service Corps. It is our job to do what we can to look after the needs of our fighters, write letters, mend for the wounded, and teach new marching songs and such. Captain Pai has requested I enter your names on the company roll but if you could be patient with me a moment I must first finish here."

The new recruits waited in silence as she resumed with the corporal, shifting through the sparse contents of the pack.

"Our platoon officer who died in the lake" Teng informed them.

"That's not the way to die in war" observed Lin.

"Did he command well?" asked Ellison of his new comrades-in-arms.

"Impatient; Brave, but impatient" answered Han drawing a shirt from the pack.

"I will send these" said Still Willows, selecting from among the things they found, a silk handkerchief and a photograph. "There is a wife in Amoy. The mail service in these times is unreliable but I will write a letter and enclose these things in hope she will receive them."

Addressing Mark and David she stowed them in a haversack hung from her shoulder. Then rummaging deeper she took out a hard covered pocket size notebook and from a breast pocket, a pencil.

"Now then" she said, looking first at Lin. "May I have your names and if it is possible to give, a family address."

As David yielded his name and struggled to remember the address of an uncle in Canton, Mark surveyed their quarters. The framework of the shelters appeared to be bamboo poles around which the matting in patchwork fashion was fitted. The roofs, all lean-to, looked suspect, with every chance of blowing away in a wind and not a hope of keeping those inside dry when raining. Through a door-less entrance at least two occupants therein were seen to be sleeping on its bare-earthed floor.

With what light there was from an overcast sky, filtered again by overhanging willow boughs there was a persistent gloom about the place. Which Mark noted, because of the men's general cheerfulness was not being allowed to blight the spirits with depression. At each of the fires, while they talked, smoked their pipes, cleaned weapons or stitched rents in uniforms, smiles were constant and ripples of laughter frequent.

In the Englishman's case this light heartedness did nothing to dispel his growing qualms of misgiving. When he and David had set out to find a unit to fight with he had not expected lavish equipment and weapons. However, he had hoped for at the least to be supplied with an adequate uniform and a serviceable rifle. This ill-armed ragtag and bobtail band was not what he had pictured going into battle with.

"You Mister Ellison?" Still Willows was now saying, "You will have to adopt a Chinese name as it is impossible to translate the English version appropriately."

"There is no need. He has already chosen" reminded Loyal Monkey.

"Oh yes" confirmed Ellison. Remembering and beginning to grin, "It is also Lin. Lin Big Nose!"

CHAPTER 9
Arise, avenger of these wrongs
Virgil 70-19 BC

"There, Fallen Dove. See their banner. They're coming."

"Yes, High Heart, I see the despicable emblem" acknowledged Fallen Dove, glancing at the late February sun that had not yet reached its noonday mark. "They are early this week."

These two, High Heart a farmer of fifty and Fallen Dove a young woman of twenty were of a party of seven hiding in undergrowth observing across fields a road that ended at a river ford. Of the other five one was a teenage girl, Morning Mist, a boy of sixteen, Swift Wind, two young men, Twilight Cloud and Distant Cricket and a thin mature man, Shy Stork.

All were survivors of this ravaged district, farmland south of the Yangtze, eighty li east of Wuhu. When the Japanese army marched through this land in December they were the fortunate ones who had lived while their families and fellow villagers were massacred. Only Fallen Dove was an outsider she had joined them in their plight after escaping from Nanking and was the driving force among them in organising resistance against the vile dwarfs.

Remaining still to conceal their presence, they watched as a platoon of Japanese soldiers approached. Each week for the last month this platoon had left their town base to conduct a courtesy patrol. Parading their flag, they would march a wide circle of thirty li or so, halting to eat their midday rations at the ford. Once they were settled in their usual spot, Fallen Dove turned about on hands and knees to lead the rest away. "Come! Let us prepare ourselves."

At the ford Lieutenant Shinfuji stood watching his platoon as Sergeant Kajita ordered them to fall out. Detaching himself from where they slumped by the roadside he selected a spot in the warm sunlight in which to sit. There his servant came to spread a small cloth, placing on it a bowl containing rice cakes and a cup he filled with apricot wine.

Corporal Nemoku was the first to see them appear, two young women on the far side of the near field. With baskets on their back they had made their way out of a line of trees and were now busying themselves cutting grass for fuel. Watching them, Nemoku felt his penis stir with sexual craving and then begin to harden. When they had seized girls in the past it was he in the forefront, first to rape. It was some weeks since he had last spent himself with a taken woman, now here the opportunity was presenting itself again.

Jumping to his feet he called to his officer, jerking bows and pointing to the women "Honoured Lieutenant, there are two enemy spying on us. May I have your permission to capture them?"

"Shinfuji, on seeing these two 'enemy' were women flicked a hand in their direction, giving the corporal his release. "Let them have their fun with these peasant wenches" he thought smugly for he had a flower girl of his own that satisfied his needs, a magistrates daughter he kidnapped and kept confined in the garrison town for his own personal pleasure.

With the whole platoon now alerted to the presence of the women Nemoku snatched up his rifle and equipment leapt from the road bank into the field. Two others eager to share the prize, Privates Ohashi and Fujisator, sprang to their feet and bolted after the corporal.

With others climbing to their feet, a wholesale chase by the platoon was prevented by a single deep-throated word of command from Sergeant Kajita.

"Fallen Dove, they're running towards us" cried Morning Mist.

"Yes I see. Come then. Hurry away, quickly" ordered Fallen Dove.

Away from the edge of the field they ran, back behind the line of trees where Fallen Dove paused to look up. Hidden on a bough of one of these trees was the boy, Swift Wind. "How many are following?" she called.

"Good! Good! Fallen Dove replied on being shown three fingers. "We will stick to the plan. Tell High Heart and Distant Cricket."

Leaving Swift Wind to scramble from the tree, Fallen Dove raced after Morning Mist. The path they followed was a cart track that paralleled the river with open fields on the left and a dense hedge of reeds on the riverside. Ahead was a cluster of four earth walled shelters, once home to poor farmers it was now deserted. Dropping to her knees as if stumbled, Fallen Dove looked back. Just as the first Japanese came in sight she regained her feet, running on.

Racing to catch her the three in pursuit had changed position, Corporal Nemoku, older and fatter had dropped behind the two younger privates. Wheezing for breath, his nailed boots thudding on the hard packed earth, he could never have heard the old one, High Heart, steal from the reeds and on bare nimble feet, pad swiftly up behind him.

The blow he received from the heavy metal cleaver, struck by High Heart, buried itself in the back of the corporal's skull, killing him instantly. This however was not enough for the old man. Yanking it out he knelt beside the fallen corporal hacking again and again at his bloody and fast disintegrating head. "This is for my sons, my daughters, my grandchildren."

At the tiny hamlet, Ohashi, in the lead, saw the girl once again fall. Now within his grasp he followed as she darted into one of the dwellings dimly lit within, a smile sprang to his face as he found the girl standing directly in front. This smile quickly turned to a look of shock and pain when Fallen Dove lunged forward with a spear he had not seen her holding, plunging it deep into his stomach.

With a drawn out gasp he released his rifle to grab the spear shaft with both hands. Fallen Dove, struggling to push the spear deeper, with the soldier holding onto it could do no more than force him to the floor at the door sill where he began to scream and call out.

"Strike! Morning Mist. Strike!" she called for assistance from the other girl. Who, terrified at the sight of what was occurring, stood clutching her own spear, frozen in shock.

In a frenzy Fallen Dove released her spear to wrench the second from Morning Mist driving its point repeatedly into the soldier's mouth to silence his screams.

Outside the door a violent struggle could be heard. Shy Stork armed with a knife had dropped onto the second soldier from the roof while Twilight Cloud had rushed at him from another building. Doing no more than separate the soldier from his rifle, a tumbling fight commenced.

Shy Stork and Twilight Cloud were farmers not fighters, Shy Stork was slashing with his knife not stabbing fatal thrusts, while Twilight Cloud was trying to grab hold of the soldier's arms. Receiving cuts to his hands from Shy Stork, the soldier, Fujisato, struck Twilight Cloud a blow to the head as he fell backwards against a hut wall. Rolling away he drew the bayonet from its scabbard at his waist as he regained his feet before the point could be brought to bare Shy Stork lunged with his knife burying it in his enemy's shoulder. Fujisato, with a scream, thrust his bayonet upwards into Shy Stork's left armpit. The tip penetrating through the top of his shoulder. Twilight Cloud recovered from the blow he received sprang at the soldier grasping and holding tight the hand clutching the bayonet. For a brief moment they stood locked in struggle. Then Fujisato, seeming to rear forward, his head snapping back, eyes rolling skywards went motionless. As his head drooped forward his knees sagged, blood beginning to run from his mouth. Slumping to the ground, Fallen Dove withdrew her spear from his back and plunged it in a second time.

Dropping the spear as the soldier at her feet gasped his last she moved to aid Shy Stork. Snatching the bayonet from his armpit she made him sit down.

"Twilight Cloud, remove the dwarf's equipment and give me his shirt. Then go into the hut and drive a spear into the other one to ensure he is dead" she ordered positioning Shy Stork's arm across his body to lessen the flow of blood.

While dressing the wound with the Japanese's shirt, High Heart with Distant Cricket and Swift Wind arrived.

"We killed the other" announced Distant Cricket. And his rifle, we have it"

"The bullets! Have you brought them all?"

"Yes Fallen Dove," replied Swift Wind, holding up Corporal Nemoku's ammunition pouches.

"And the body?" she asked.

"Dragged into the reeds" answered High Heart, "It is out of sight."

"Good! Now take these other two dwarf pigs and throw them in the river. And hurry about it. We must be away from here."

As they commenced this task Fallen Dove finishing her bandaging, helped Shy Stork to his feet, dispatching him away with a push. "Don't wait for us. You go on. We will meet at the rendezvous agreed, by the hill stream waterfall."

"Morning Mist, get up! Get up!" Entering the hut Fallen Dove approached the other girl who sat on the floor crying. "The other dwarfs will be coming soon. Cease your whimpering and help me."

Pulling Morning Mist to her feet, Fallen Dove slung a rifle over her shoulder and thrust a spear in her hands. Collecting the other weapons she pulled the girl with her out of the hamlet towards the river. There, meeting the others she distributed the arms more evenly among the party before continuing their escape east along the riverbank.

"Good!" exclaimed the youth Swift Wind to Fallen Dove as they hurried away. "We did good work."

"Yes! Yes! replied the young woman in a blunt tone, "But next time we will do better."

Fallen Dove was angry. It was her plan to entice and kill the Japanese soldiers the way they did. But she was now aware it could have gone all so wrong. If just one had had the opportunity to fire his rifle none of them may have escaped from the rest of the platoon. They had survived on this occasion by luck, next time the plan will not need luck. Next time she will plan more carefully. For in revenge, Fallen Dove had sworn a life's solemn vow to kill dwarfs and kill and kill again in repayment for their brutal murder of her father, her mother and her sister, Frances.

--oOo--

Stepping down onto the sidewalk, Chuck Ashman stood for a moment as the door behind him folder shut and the bus drove on. The Kansas winter snows had fallen heavily in past weeks, although now in this first week of March a thawing, warm front had moved across the state turning the whiteness that lay on the streets around into greying mounds of slush.

Taking a firm grip on his suitcase handle Chuck set off along the sidewalk turning right at the first corner. A modest residential area of turn of the century wood frame houses, he left the street to walk up one of the front paths. By now his shoes were thoroughly wet so instead of approaching the front door he walked around the back. Climbing the rear steps he opened the fly screen door to enter the back porch, the whole area of which was also enclosed with wire fly screening. His knock on the kitchen door brought a call from within the house, "Coming. Who is it?"

"It's me sis, Charlie" called back Ashman.

The door was opened by a blond woman five years older than he, dressed in a house dress and woollen cardigan.

"Hello Bet" he smiled in greeting his sister.

"Charlie! Come in" she replied returning his smile, pulling the door wide for him to enter.

"I've got half of Wichita's slush on my shoes" he warned.

"It won't hurt the linoleum. Get in here" she told him, dismissing his caution.

"When did you get in?" she asked as he placed his suitcase by the door.

"Couple of hours ago. Been on a bus from Galveston for the better part of two days" he replied.

"And you look it too" pronounced Bet on Ashman's tired-eyed, unshaven appearance. "The kids are at school and Art's at work. You know where the bathroom is so before you say another word get upstairs and have a bath."

Half an hour later bathed, shaved and wearing a fresh change of his brother-in-law's clothes, Chuck sat at the kitchen table drinking a cup of his sister's coffee.

"I'm just about to make myself some lunch. Would you like some?" On receiving a nod from her brother Bet placed a frying pan on the lighted wood burning kitchen stove. "So you're back. For how long?"

"For some time it looks like. The company went bust last month. Luckily one of the planes was sold to a Texas buyer, which got me a lift back" Ashman took a sip of his sister's coffee.

"Been around to the house yet?" Bet, cracking eggs into a bowl, paused to look at her brother.

"Yup" replied Chuck taking another sip. "Lynda wasn't in. Fact is a set of new tenants had taken the house over."

"I wrote a letter to you last Christmas asking, when you came home to call around and see us first." His sister's tone had softened.

"Didn't get it, but no need. I got the message six months ago when she stopped writing" Chuck put his cup on the table but held the handle.

"She used to come around the house quite regular when you first left. Then for the last year she hardly showed at all." Bet had begun to beat the eggs.

"My fault. Couldn't see it first off. Take a contract out of the country; leave your wife on her own. What a chump." Ashman, who had been staring at his coffee cup, raised his eyes to his sister. "Who she run off with?"

"Some fellah with a 35 Packard" replied Bet without looking at him. "One of the neighbours seemed pretty sure he was a travelling salesman from St Louis. Used to turn up like clockwork, first week every month."

"Well can't blame her" admitted Chuck forgivingly "Married six months then tell the gal you're going off on a job for two years and expect her to wait. Am a bit jarred about the money I sent back though. Went around the bank to draw some cash but it looked like she skipped with most of that. All that was left in the account was forty bucks I sent up the end of January."

"Got a job lined up?" asked Bet, receiving in reply a shake of Ashman's head. "Art says things are picking up at the stockyard. Might be a change of getting taken on there."

"Christ Bet, the stockyard?" Chuck made no attempt to conceal his contempt. "Working with cattle? When mom an dad lost the farm and moved to California I swore I'd never work with stock again."

"Can't be fussy around here Charlie" responded his sister, "You got lucky finding work flying airplanes. But the rest of us went through hard times. Remember what me and mine put up with. From winter 32 to spring 34 Art never had a steady job. Had to go around begging for part time work. That stockyard's been a good thing for us. We're paying off the bank loan for this house and the kids don't want for new clothes."

"Ya, sorry sis, didn't mean to be belittling. It's just that I'm a pilot, wanta earn my living flying" apologised her brother.

"Could try the airfield on the other side of town or maybe the airport over at Kansas City, they're gettin scheduled flights through there now."

"Ya, well I'll have to sort something out quick. Things ain't too bright at the moment" replied Ashman "Almost flat broke and nowhere to live. Good chance I might be taking that job at the stockyard after all."

"Well you'll have to check with Art on that when he gets home but this is an old house and big, we got a spare room you might like" proposed Bet, adding "Besides the kids will be glad to have you around."

"Thanks sis, that's the best deal I've been offered for months, but like you say it's Art's home, he's the one who should be giving the OK on the idea" replied Ashman nodding his head in gratitude before continuing with a faint embarrassed smile. "I must be an awful disappointment to you. Your hot-shot pilot brother, almost busted and on the skids."

"Don't kid yourself Charlie Ashman" contradicted his sister pouring the contents of her mixing bowl into the frying pan. "To me you're still that little tyke of a kid brother I used to have to share Saturday night bath water with in a tub in the middle of the kitchen."

CHAPTER 10
The field of battle is a land of standing corpses;
Those determined to die will live;
Those who hope to escape with their lives will die.
Wu Ch'i 430-381BC

Standing beside his shelter, Corporal Han looked around the squad position satisfied his men were actively employed in worthwhile assignments. It was the second week in March and winter on the outer fringe of the Yangtze Basin was receding, local pathways now free of frost, becoming muddy trails. Two Platoon, on picket duty, were occupying a re-entrance three li from the brigade village that was the point from which all battalion patrols sent into the enemy territory left from and returned. With platoon headquarters and two squads stationed at the mouth of the re-entrance, defending their flanks on the slopes of two hill spurs either side, was sited the other two squads. From his right hand spur Corporal Han could see down through mature standing pine groves to his Platoon HQ below and across to the left hand spur.

With the morning meal finished he had set his squad to tasks and details keeping idleness at bay. Of his eight men, two were always on watch in the forward observation post, doing reliefs of four hour shifts. Of the others, Little Feet and Loyal Monkey were at the brook bringing fresh water, while Mad Flame was collecting dead pine limbs for the fire. Blind Ox, using squad rifles, was instructing the two strange ones, Many Voices and the foreigner, Big Nose, on stripping, assembling and cleaning of the weapons; one a Japanese Arisaka and the other a German Mauser.

As the Chinese army had so many types of rifles from different nations, each soldier had to learn how to handle all makes either of which issued or taken from the enemy. On first being given these two into the care of his squad they had caused Han long moments of puzzlement. Gentlemen with vast qualities, they were to him like oxen with wings, capable of greater things but preferring to remain harnessed to the farmer's plough. Each morning he awoke, Stands Erect expected to find they had slipped away in the night but so far each had stayed, obeying his orders without question.

On movement catching his eye, the corporal watched as a figure ran downhill along the path leading from the village into the platoon's headquarters. Approaching Sergeant Ts'ao, the platoon commander, who stood over a small fire, this figure, a soldier from battalion headquarters halted to attention to report. Within a few seconds he had finished and was turning about to depart at a run leaving Sergeant Ts'ao waving his arms and shouting at those around him.

Soon one of the platoon began, with quickened paces, to make the climb up towards his squad position. This was the platoon runner, the young soldier from the 98th Division they had found guarding the crossroads on their retreat from Shanghai. He had another name then but now only answered to the one the platoon had give him, Shou-ku Guards Alone. His recruitment into Pointed Sword was not an isolated occurrence. In fact it was Colonel Lung's standing policy to incorporate into the brigade any individual or detached party lost or abandoned by their parent formation. And there had been a lot of these found on the withdrawal from Shanghai, in which thanks to Lung, Pointed Sword was one of the few units engaged who had made their escape intact.

In such a retreat, so fiercely pursued, most other units were either scattered or overrun. Many were unable to move fast enough to avoid encirclement or capture, others only just survived after major losses to their ranks. Pointed Sword was one which endured because their commander recognised early on that the higher command had lost control of the battlefield. Everywhere was panic and indecision, with Corps and Divisional generals giving blind orders to attack, defend or retreat as duty or fear took them.

Colonel Lung only obeyed one order during the whole of the retreat. On the third day, north of Changshu, a general told him to secure a road junction and defend it. Only to find the next morning he and his two Divisions had made off in the night, leaving Pointed Sword to face the Japanese onslaught alone. After that Lung allied himself with no-one. Taking his brigade northwards to the Yangtze, where at gunpoint he commandeered junks and sampans to ferry his soldiers across the river to the safety of the far shore. In so doing, and by sweeping up the lost and weary, he actually arrived with a stronger brigade than when he had left Chapei.

"Stands Erect! Stands Erect! Orders! Orders!" called Ma who had not yet breasted the spur slope.

"I am Corporal Han, cheeky house cat. Address me so" upbraided Ha, "What orders?"

"We are leaving. Back to the village and then north" announced the runner.

"Leaving? When?" asked Han sharply.

"Now" replied Ma, "You are to pack all belongings and bring your squad to rejoin the platoon."

Thirty minutes later, as they marched downhill to the brigade village the scene below had vastly changed from the way they had left it. From that of a unit at rest in quarters, Pointed Sword had now become a formation charged with direction and purpose. To the north of the village a battalion of the 2nd Regiment could be seen moving off in marching column. Nearer, their own 3rd Battalion was formed up on the main track in company ranks awaiting the order to follow on. While the 2nd Battalion, also on the point of being ordered to leave, was falling in by platoons and companies to the call of bugles. Their own 1st Battalion was seen at work arranging the village for departure. Everywhere in small parties they were returning materials and household articles borrowed when they first occupied the village, doors use for sleeping on, and matting for shelters. There was a Chinese rhyme sung by farmers that in the past was all too true, "Soldiers passing, fences smashing." Meaning, armies never respected ownership, looting and vandalising as they wished. Lung's iron code on this was, give respect to the peasants, everything borrowed must be returned. He had learned while hunting pirates and bandits that by treating the peasantry fairly their co-operation and supply of information was never withheld.

In the ten minutes it took 2 Platoon to reach the company drilling ground, most of the battalions was already closing up. Around a hut which had been the battalion cooking area, Slow Boil was finalising his move. Distinctive in his felt hat, he was using a stick to point at things needing done or to strike a cook boy or coolie carrier, not, in his mind, moving swift enough. Very shortly they too were standing ready in line of march, loads slung on shoulder poles, the cook boys carrying their cooking pots and utensils, the coolies, sacks and baskets of food stuffs, rice, flour and vegetables.

Although the question was repeatedly asked regarding their destination the other company members knew nothing other than that they were going north. Not until called to fall in on the tract by Warrant Officer Ch'e to be given a brief outline by Captain Pai did they learn of the reason for their hasty move.

"Soldiers of Four Company" he began in a loud voice, "A battle to the east has occurred. The Japanese invaders have attacked along the railway from the south. Our armies have defeated them but now General Li has called for reinforcements further north. We will be joining General Chang's Fifty-ninth Army Corps as part of those reinforcements."

The march began in a determined fashion, the men singing spirited battle songs, finishing the march at dusk in the same manner, with the troops still singing. However, Mark Ellison and David Lin weren't there to know this. Casualties of their shoes which caused blistering and gave no grip in the mud, they had straggled further and further behind, dropping a mile in rear of the others. While sharing a bowl of rice congee they were approached by Still Willows.

"Corporal Han tells me you may be having trouble with your feet."

"We are just not accustomed to the quickness of the pace" replied David.

"The pace is not quick. Colonel Lung has kept it slow in order that three patrols left behind might yet catch us up" she informed them kneeling to examine their feet. After inspection she bathed them, then pricking the unburst blisters, dabbed from a small bottle a drop of kerosene on each.

"It is not cold. Tomorrow wear the straw sandals you wove" she advised.

Chinese army footwear was either sandals or cloth slippers sown from rags. Straw sandals wore out quickly but were easy to make, a pair always hanging from a soldier's pack. In the evening firelight, Lin and Ellison were, on their first nights shown how to make these. The next day's march they wore them, finding they chaffed between the toes but by padding the straw cord with a strip of cloth they found them much easier to march on, arriving singing with 4 Company on halting at the next night stop.

The following day the brigade began to pass through elements of the 7th Army Corps, Provincial soldiers of Kwangsi Province, men who Ellison had encountered before. Their Czechoslovakian helmets reminding him of the day he and Tim Hughes had leaned out the train window their thumbs up, shouting "Ding-hao! Ding-hao!" They, with the 51st and 59th Corps had just repulsed a prolonged Japanese attack, up the Tientsin-Pukow railway. Misinformed as to it being a victory, it was non-the-less a spirited feat of arms, halting the Japanese advance on the Huai river. Now frustrated in their attack at the southern boundary of the Chinese Fifth War Zone, the Japanese were beginning to advance their forces in the north, down the Tientsin railway and after a successful landing on the coast of Shantung Province, southwards from Tsingtao. To counter this threat General Li Tsung-jen the commander of the Fifth War Zone called for reinforcements, being sent first the 59th Corps with Pointed Sword following.

Crossing the Huai, the brigade bivouacked this third night on the far shore of the river. Rising before dawn they breakfasted and were on the move by first light. Tracking north, gradually swinging to the east, Pointed Sword ended their march that afternoon at a village station on the Tientsin-Pukow railway somewhere south of Suhsien.

In fields beyond the station, wounded from the recent battle were grouped. Some lay in rows in the open, others sat in little bands under trees. The only care of any sort they seemed to be receiving was from a party of grave diggers who were searching the ranks for those of whom had expired.

While awaiting the evening meal, the Chinese army only ate twice, mornings and evenings, Mark and David were drawn to these wounded, finding Still Willows and some of the other girls already there doing what they could.

"Most are dying of thirst" Still Willows informed them.

"I'll see if I can find some water" offered Mark.

At the station he discovered a water pump and a wooden bucket which he filled. Before being placed on night guard he made repeated trips with it for Still Willows or one of the other girls to dip their cups into, watering the lips of the soldiers, delirious and dying.

Despite being frequently assured that a train would shortly be arriving to transport them north it was almost evening of the next day before one turned up. An engine with two carriages and a mixed collection of eighteen freight cars, flat-decks and ore carriers. With the carriages assigned to the officers, the men piled on wherever they could fit themselves. Almost four thousand troops scrambling for space not meant to take two thousand. Filling the cars, once these could accommodate no more they clambered onto the roofs of the carriages and freight cars or clung wherever a handhold could be found on the rolling stocks outer structures.

As a warning of departure, a number of company bugle boys began sounding off their instruments with loud tuneless trumpet blasts. As the train began gliding from the siding out onto the main line, a body of fifty or sixty soldiers. With cries and shouts, their faces broad with smiles tumbled from one of the village side streets running like hounds for the departing train. These were recognised as the men of the three patrols the brigade had had to leave behind. But such was the allegiance to Pointed Sword and devotion to its commander, that arriving at the village to find the brigade three days gone; they had marched for two days and nights without sleeping or eating to rejoin the brigade.

Ellison, sat watching in a freight car doorway as each of these men were plucked from the trackside by a hedge of reaching hands, was soon to learn he and David Lin had not joined a band of ruffians as he had first thought, but a league of brothers.

--oOo--

In the early dawn of the following day, on the outskirts of Hsuchou, the brigade train was shunted off the main line. Told their wait would be for an hour or perhaps longer, the battalion's cook boys set about scavenging for water and fuel.

In need of relieving himself, Ellison climbed from his freight car to urinate. As he stood doing so, Mad Flame with the same intention came up beside him. At first paying him no mind, by the nature of his discharge Mark's eyes were involuntarily drawn to the man's penis. Instead of a single stream, his urine splattered at his feet as if from a garden watering can. The head of his organ, swollen and encased in a large pussy scab, had not one outlet but several causing the waste fluid to spray all ways. Hurriedly replacing his own penis Ellison moved away, he had never seen the effects of advanced gonorrhoea before and the sight rattled him.

The morning was cold, verging on bitter due to the wind that gust from time-to-time out of the plain like countryside. It was mild though compared to what Ellison had endured throughout the night's journey. The constant flow of icy air caused by the speed of the train robbed him of any real sleep. With no blanket and his overcoat lost while escaping the Japanese patrol, the only garment of any worth was the padded jacket issued to him by the company. But this was a number of sizes too small and a constant source of lice bites. Lin on the other hand wasn't too badly off, the Japanese aircrew overall suit, with the legs cut away, fitting him after a manner.

With breakfast done and no indication of the brigade moving, the men began to find themselves space away from the trackway where they could sit or lay absorbing the warmth from a sun that had begun to rise into a clear cloudless sky. At this point Colonel Lung who was napping in the front carriage was disturbed from his rest with the news that Major Liang, his staff adjutant, who he had sent into the city to secure definite orders, was returning under escort.

Buttoning his overcoat as he stepped from the train, a party of horsemen halted before him. Soldiers and officers all heavily clad he could distinguish none by rank. Before Major Liang could begin an introduction, one of the party, mounted on a white mare announced himself.

"Colonel Lung commander of Pointed Sword Brigade, I am General Li Commander of the Fifth War Zone."

Fortunately as he spoke Lung's orderly handed him his peaked hat, allowing him the dignity of saluting the general in head dress.

Short, stoutly built with a round face, Li dismounted to approach the colonel extending his hand to shake Lung's. "It gives me great satisfaction to meet you Colonel, the one who earned the name, the Tiger of Chapei."

"A mere compliment compared to the honour I have of serving under General Li, the famed General and Governor of Kwangsi Province" replied Lung bowing his head.

Entering the rail carriage one of Li's aids unfolded a map with which the general began to brief Lung. "The Japanese believe they have my forces trapped between two of their Divisions Isogai's Tenth approaching from Tsinan and Itagakis Fifth striking from Tsingtao. If they join together their combined numbers could defeat us here. On the other hand, if they can be kept apart we could achieve a great victory by dealing with one or both individually."

"In which roll can Pointed Sword best serve you General?" asked Lung studying the map.

"My plan is to destroy Isogai's Division here at Taierhchuang where the ground favours our attack." Li pointed to a town on the map a hundred li north west of Hsuchou. "But this will only succeed if no aid is given to him by joining forces with Itagaki's Division."

Li paused to draw the map nearer.

"He and his Division, over forty thousand strong, with tanks and artillery are advancing here towards Linyi" Li drew a finger from Tsingtao on the coast through Shantung Province to a city eighty Li north of the Kiangsu border. "General P'ang with his Fortieth Corps is holding the city. And just two days ago I sent General Chang with his Fifty-ninth Corps to join him there. You Colonel and your brigade must also reach Linyi, place yourself under General P'ang's command and assist in the defence of the city. You like the Fortieth and Fifty-ninth Corps are Provincial miscellaneous unattached troops but I have every confidence in your courage and skill at arms. Now is there anything that you lack that I may be of help with?"

Lung straightened from examining the map to face the general. "We are not fully armed General and short of ammunition."

"I gave General Chang most of the reserve rifles we had, however I will see that ammunition is delivered to you before leaving" replied the General, from his tone obviously wishing he could do more. "Is there anything else?"

"If it is possible, a map would be most beneficial General" ventured the Colonel.

"Of course, take this one" he said waving the back of his hand over the one they had been studying. "Now before I go I will address your Brigade."

Mounting a flat car, with Pointed Sword gathered in a half circle around him, General Li gave an inspired speech emphasizing that they were soon to be pitched against an enemy of greater strength armed with artillery, armoured cars and tanks. Calling upon them to be each a warrior of ten to strike the dwarf soldiers down and trample their bones beneath China's soil.

On regaining his horse he raised an arm in salute to the brigade before riding away, leaving Lung in complete admiration of him. Never had a General come to him, most regarding it as a loss of face to do so and never had he been so candidly informed of a commander's pending battle plan. General Li was truly a man who lived up to his reputation of fairness and trust.

At the main rail terminus in the centre of the city, picking up the promised ammunition, they were switched to a westerly track which they travelled until evening. Reaching Hsinan, a rail town a hundred and eighty li from Hsuchou, Lung disembarked his command. The battalions, ordered to cook a big meal were told to be prepared to march through the night and all of the next day if necessary. It was after dark before they started and did march through the night, north, passing villages and towns, across rolling plan land with field upon field green with young wheat shoots.

The road they marched on was good, gravelled and wide, giving the columns four ranks room to march. With the arrival of dawn a ridge of purple hills, low to the north-east was seen. As the day progressed these hills became mountains with snow on their peaks.

By noon the signs of warfare began to show. Refugee families escaping the fighting, huddled by the roadside bewildered and fearful for their future. Disabled, wounded soldiers sheltering in farms and villages hobbled to the road edge to cheer them. Then they came to villages that had clearly received attacks from the air, houses bombed and burnt, roads cratered. For the last three hours of their march they walked straight towards a bank of smoke that rose ahead of them out of the plain. The nearer they approached the wider it became until cresting a high rounded hill, company by company the brigade was presented with the sight of a city in flames.

"Christ. Mark. Look at that!" exclaimed David Lin to Ellison.

"Bloody hell!" he replied also speaking in English before reverting to Chinese "How far off would you say that was?"

"Thirty li at least" guessed Lin.

Mark equating that in miles, working three Li to the mile figured this to be about right. Among the smoke explosions could be seen but at this distance no sound was yet heard.

Skylined as they passed over the crown of this hill, the brigade was seen by a watching sentry from a top floor window of a landlord's vacated house five miles from the city.

"General P'ang!" announced a captain excitedly. "There are troops on the main road marching towards us from the south."

"Chinese or Dwarf" snapped the general as he sat on a stool smoking a cigarette.

"It is too far to distinguish General. They are passing over Green Dragon Hill."

"Come show me" ordered P'ang" taking up a pair of binoculars.

"Chinese. They have no vehicles. All supplies are being carried on shoulder poles" he remarked lowering the glasses before turning to a major of his staff. "Niu, ride to them. Bring their commander to me."

On being ushered into P'ang's headquarters, Lung was unsure of what sort of reception he would receive. P'ang, over sixty years old had a past reputation of being notoriously prudent in battle. Always avoiding conflict by retreating to safety or changing sides if unable to run. However General Li had assured him the old fox had reformed, swearing to fight the dwarfs to the last drop of his blood.

"Colonel you have arrived at a most opportune time" greeted the general. "My corps is about to drive the enemy out of the city and into a trap. General Chang has taken his Fifty-ninth Corps around to the east, across the Fang River and is now awaiting us to send the Japanese back the way they came, north to Chuhsien, where on route he will fall upon their flanks and annihilate them. Between us, your brigade and my corps, we shall speed the dwarfs to their extermination."

Two hours later, sent on to the headquarters of the 39th Division, the only division in P'ang's corps, to co-ordinate the attack with its commander Lung began to have reservations about this so simple manoeuvre of annihilation. Hurrying his brigade into the southern outskirts of the city, guilds were provided for each battalion, leading them into buildings or treed areas out of sight from aerial detection.

General Ma, the commander of the 39th Division was more forthright in giving his situation report than P'ang. In a large grain storage shed crowded with wounded, reserve troops sleeping, and cook boys busy at their fires, Ma spread a map on a table to brief Lung.

"Linyi is a city at the junction of two rivers, the Fang from the east joining the Yi from the north" he began, "The old city, which we hold, is walled while all around it is other areas of township. The Japanese are occupying everything to the north of the old city while we hold the south. We have been engaged in a battle here for five days now and in that time we have attacked and thrown each other out twice. This morning the city almost changed hands for a fifth time, we only holding the dwarfs back because their airplanes ran out of bombs and had to leave. But we suffered heavy loss and tomorrow of course they will be back. Now with the added strength of your brigade and the blessing of our ancestors, when they do come, we will survive to counter attack and this time drive them out for good."

"Yes, a fine plan" complimented Lung, pretending to appear puzzled "Our combined force should defeat the cursed dwarfs, but… I… Ah… I misunderstood General P'ang"

"Misunderstood?" asked Ma. "How so?"

"It was not given by him as an order but the way he viewed our present situation I took to understand he favoured a night attack."

"A night attack" pondered Ma looking around the storage shed and then at the map. "My men have fought without rest for five days, they are tired…"

"Let my battalions lead, General" requested Lung boldly "The thirty-ninth has reaped enough glory. Let Pointed Sword launch your next flood of honours."

--oOo--

In single file 4 Company moved silently down a stream bed, closed up so as not to lose the man in front in the dark. They had left on their approach march two hours earlier and were now nearing the enemy defence line. The plan of attack was for Pointed Sword to strike first, around the flanks of the old walled city, the 1st Regiment to the west, 2nd to the east. When they had penetrated the Japanese front, troops of the 39th Division would pour out in a supporting attack through the northern city gates.

The night was cold but Mark Ellison felt no chill, keyed up with excitement, his temples were moist with light perspiration. The man ahead of him was Little Feet who seemed at times to dance small jigs as they moved. The night was cloudy but when the moon did shine and Mark caught glimpses of his face, the nearer they got to the enemy, the bigger his grin grew.

The stream bed, still not yet flooded with melting snow from the Paotu Mountains, was, in this sector the Chinese front line. Concealing themselves below its rim the company spread itself along the stream. To their immediate front the handful of Chinese soldiers defending here pointed out the Japanese posts behind a wall that shielded a row of houses. There was to be no signal for a synchronised assault, the communication means, wireless or telephones didn't exist. To overcome this the brigade was to launch itself at a set time. At ten minutes past midnight, by Captain Pai's watch, he would lead his men into the attack against whatever enemy was before them.

With the moon masked by cloud, 4 Company, sworn not to shout or cheer sprang from the stream bed and rushed the wall. Sixty to eighty yards Ellison judged it. Running at full tilt the men of the company crossed a space of hard packed ground with hardly a sound from their sandals. Halfway a rifle was fired from the wall, then in quick succession three or four more. Someone fell but the rest flung themselves over the wall.

To either side of Ellison there was shots, screams and scuffling but from the darkness around him no enemy was encountered. He was in a garden with others whom he followed into a house. Dark inside, armed with a sword in one hand, a stick grenade in the other, his blood racing, mind blanked out with a million racing thoughts, he stumbled through tiny rooms and narrow hallways tight behind someone of his company he couldn't at that moment identify. Suddenly the man's arm swung up then down, their was a cry, a tussle between two men blocking his path, then the first man ran on leaving Mark to trip over a dying Japanese soldier. Regaining his feet he continued on reaching a doorway where an arm across his chest blocked his way.

"Wait, Big Nose. Wait! When I spring, you follow." It was Little Feet, watching through the doorway waiting for something. Across his back was slung a rifle for his weapon of preference for close fighting was his sword.

Without a signal to the Englishman he leapt into the narrow street beyond the door. Taken by surprise, Ellison bolted after him finding Little Feet, with a cry of triumph cutting down one of three Japanese soldiers passing at a run. The other two with bayoneted rifles turned on their attacker, one lunging to kill. Little Feet nimbly swerved his body away from the thrusting blade, swung a backhanded counter blow that buried the sword edge deep in his opponent's face. The third, firing his rifle from the hip but missing. As his comrade, at first blocking his line of sight, fell to the ground, he stepped quickly forward to drive his bayonet into Little Feet's exposed side. Ellison, his momentum taking him into the middle of the melee instinctively slashed downwards with his sword, striking the Japanese soldier's helmet. Then again as he faltered cutting deep into the back of the soldier's left shoulder. With the victim releasing his rifle, giving out a cry of pain, Mark struck again slashing the sword into his foe's neck, feeling the bone crunch as he wrenched out the now blood baptised blade.

From down the street a shot was fired at them. Leaving those they had fought to groan away their last breath, Mark and Little Feet flung themselves against the opposite building. More shots were fired but only as a warning to keep back as those firing fled. Without a thought of doing otherwise, Ellison followed as Little Feet went in pursuit. Throughout the city a din of machine-gun, rifle fire and exploding grenades began to rise.

Four Company for their part had broken through the Japanese forward picket outposts and were throwing them back on their first defence line. At a street junction Little Feet halted, in the building opposite Japanese commands were being shouted. From behind their friends arrived, Stands Erect, Blind Ox, and David Lin, with pistol in hand.

"They are ready for us" warned Little Feet, pointing. "Across there!"

Stands Erect looked around at who he had. Then leaving two from another squad telling them to draw the Japanese fire with their rifles, he took the others with him over a wall and behind houses to the right. Breaking through one of the houses they emerged into the street to find drifting smoke from an unseen blaze restricting their vision to just a few yards. Using this as added concealment they crept out and back towards the junction, following the sound of shooting. For the Japanese were now returning the fire of the two men left by Stands Erect.

Stalking the building under cover of the smoke, they reached the corner again where they could clearly see rifle flashes. Ellison knew they were going to rush the Japs to get at them hand to hand and offered to play a leading part. Tugging at Han's arm he held up the grenade before tapping it repeatedly on his chest. The corporal, at first looking hard into his eyes, jerked his head just the once as a signal of consent.

Unscrewing the grenade cap Mark dashed across the street, throwing himself under a window. Those Japanese firing from it heard his sword clatter on the stones but before any dared investigate a wooden handled grenade, trailing smoke, was hurtled among them.

On it exploding, Ellison took a moment before springing to his feet in which time, with a cheer the others had raced across and were forcing entry into the building before him. Once in, it was again close quarter fighting, swords or pistols with the Japanese defending themselves with bayonets and rifles. Dispatching those that fought, again the chase was taken up, out onto the streets and into houses, shops, mill stores, grain sheds, wherever the Japanese attempted to make a stand.

As dawn broke 4 Company faced a Japanese defence point of barricaded streets and fortified buildings, putting the Chinese attackers at a disadvantage. In the dark, they could close upon their enemy and battle it out at close quarters. In full daylight the tables turned. Machine-gun and superior rifle fire kept them at bay, to rush into the attack without overwhelming supporting fire would be suicide. Another way had to be found.

"Sergeant Ts'ao" ordered Captain Pai drawing him back around a corner, after both had studied the hastily thrown up Japanese defences facing them. "Take your platoon and see if there is a way of getting behind."

Leading his men off to a flank in an endeavour to comply, they broke through houses, crossed streets and scaled walls. At one point, after cutting back in a half circle, Mad Flame scrambled onto a wall, beckoning everyone else to follow suit. Eight to nine feet high, with a goods yard on one side and an alleyway on the other, it ran for a clear fifty yards. With the whole platoon skipping along behind him, on reaching the end where the alleyway joined a street Mad Flame leapt with a shout straight off. David Lin first behind him followed suit, not intentionally but through shocked surprise.

Below in the street a dozen or more Japanese gunners were manhandling a field gun away from their forward line. Mad Flame, landing in the middle of them was lashing with his sword, forward, back and sideways. David dropping on his feet but collapsing to one knee fired his pistol point blank at those nearest only to exhaust his ammunition after three shots. Springing up he began grappling with a soldier about to un-sling his rifle.

The ground around the gun fast became a brawl area, as the platoon without hesitation, in quick succession, hurtled off the wall. The Japanese gunners caught by surprise with their rifles slung across their backs, some, perishing beneath sword blows without being able to defend themselves. Others wrenching at their rifles began swinging them as clubs. A sergeant ran one of the platoon through with a bayonet before Blind Ox, from atop the wall, shot him. An officer with a drawn sword lunged at Little Feet who, hissing oaths, playfully sparred for a few seconds before decapitating him.

In less than a minute the gun crew were disposed of with the loss to 2 Platoon of one man mortally wounded. The gain however was substantial. Like vultures they were onto the bodies stripping them of equipment, ammunition, haversacks and water bottles. Little Feet acquired an officer's pistol and the rest of the platoon for the first time since Shanghai were all armed with rifles.

"This is more like it" happily exclaimed Ellison to Lin as he sheathed his sword to his back. Both admiring a plundered rifle in their hands.

Lin, cocking the bolt back and finding the weapon half empty began charging the magazine with fresh rounds.

Wasting no time, now that they were in behind the Japanese, Ts'ao faced his platoon back towards their defence line. With urgency in his voice he sped them on fearing at any moment to be intercepted by detachments of reinforcements closing from their rear. At a bend in the street Stands Erect threw up a hand. Ahead Japanese soldiers were manning a barricade, built around a lorry, and heaped household furniture.

Ts'ao, peering around Han's shoulder weighing up the odds they were facing, turned to the waiting platoon to bark just one word, "Attack."

Poring around the bend, firing as they came, the Japanese before them responded very much in panic. Some tried to take cover amongst the barricade, others broke for the safety of the houses either side, while the braver stood and fought. A distance of forty metres the platoon was onto them in a bound of a few breaths.

Ellison was using his rifle in a frenzy, loading and firing as he ran. A wounded Japanese from a previous engagement, who was left laid in the street, raised his rifle and fired at him as he passed. The bullet missing, the firer losing his life a second later from Mad Flame's sword. Before they reached the barricade all those who stayed were dead. Fortunately for 2 Platoon, for one was a light machine-gunner cut down in the act of swinging it towards them.

Waving the other squads after those who escaped into the houses, Sergeant Ts'ao ordered Corporal Han to hold the barricade and signal the company to show they now held the street.

"Let me signal" volunteered Ellison offering himself to Han. "They will not mistake me for a dwarf."

Mark, all six feet of him, leapt onto the cab roof of the lorry and began waving his cap. Within minutes Captain Pai had the rest of the company streaming over the barricade and into the heart of what proved the last Japanese defence south of the Fang River.

With the area around cleared of enemy, Sergeant Ts'ao collected his platoon together and followed after the rest of the company, finding them adopting the role of spectators. Reaching the Fang with no crossing point to hand, Captain Pai had placed his men in cover watching a bridge six to eight hundred yards downstream being rushed by soldiers of the 39th Division.

Built of stone and over a hundred yards long, the Japanese in their hurry to withdraw across it had caused a jam of armoured cars and lorries. At the far side a tank, stationed to block any Chinese charge to capture it, was firing both its main gun and machine gun at the troops who had closed up to the southern end. As the company watched a bid was made by a hundred or so of the 39th Division to storm across.

Pai, mindful an attack needed support, ordered the few machine-gun he had to concentrate their fire on and around the enemy tank, seeing the brave assault being beaten back he hammered his fist against a tree in frustration. Then turning about, he signalled Ts'ao to him.

"Sergeant, take your men and bring here with all speed that artillery piece left abandoned in the street."

Running back to collect the gun whose crew they had killed earlier, it was found as they had left it, the dead still littering a street now greased with blood. Unused to handling such a weapon they at first began to push it muzzle first, until Ellison pointed out it should be pulled by the trail. Manhandling it through the streets to the company, Warrant Officer Ch'e assigned by Pai to see the gun was set up at a place of vantage, conducted them to a shelf of ground between two trees at the river's edge.

Once it was sat to rest pointing towards the bridge there was a general hesitance among the platoon as to what was expected to be done next. Sensing there was no one in their ranks who had the vaguest rudimentary knowledge of heavy ordnance, Ellison, drawing himself to attention in front of Ch'e offered to get the thing working.

"Have you fired artillery before?" questioned Ch'e.

"Yes, Warrant Officer" lied Ellison. His experience of field guns was limited to a one hour demonstration by a thirteen pounder crew one afternoon in Hong Kong.

"Then use it to destroy that dwarf tank" ordered Ch'e.

The first thing he remembered of importance about firing a gun was that it had to be level. This he accomplished by drafting some of the platoon to move the gun a few yards to a flatter surface of ground. Then the trails had to be opened.

"Are you sure you know how to work this thing?" whispered Lin in English as he helped to lift the metal legs for Mark to remove the securing bolt that held the two trails together.

"No" he confessed, "But I'm trying bloody hard to look as if I do."

"Secure the trail with the locking pins" he shouted, remembering one of the commands heard given in Hong Kong but knowing none of the platoon knew what he meant, did it himself.

This impressed those watching and acquired Ellison much face. A commodity he would be needing a lot of, because from now on things were going to get tricky.

With the gun ready in position to fire, he examined the breech and breech handle with a view to opening it. If he just grabbed the handle and the thing wouldn't budge he would be tumbled as a faker straight away. Calling David to him in pretence of showing him how to open it he took hold of the handle and slowly cranked it downwards. In doing this he was able to spot the second locking system that had to be pushed aside with the heel of his other hand. After letting David open and close it a few times he then concentrated his thoughts on how he was going to sight the thing.

This was a field gun designed to lob its shells at unseen targets some distance away. From what he could see there was no open sight assembly for direct firing. Bobbing his head back and forth, his eyes kept returning to the open chamber. Bending down behind the breech he had a long squint up the barrel, an act which gave him the idea of how he would aim the gun with a half hope of landing its shells somewhere near the target. The method for operating the movement of the barrel was by cranking two hand wheels, one for elevation the other for line. Stationing Lin on one and Loyal Monkey on the other he had them manipulating the guns traversing by calling out directions. Standing in a crouched position well back from the breech, he looked straight up the barrel manoeuvring it by calling, "Left" Left! Down! Down! Right! Right!" until he had the tank across the river, no larger than a fingernail at that range, in the centre of the muzzle.

When satisfied, Guard Alone came forward with the first of only six shells they were able to find with the gun. Fitting it into the breech, a three inch cased shell, Mark, seated it firmly in the chamber with a thrust of his fist. Then telling David to close the breech, and himself taking hold of the firing lanyard, Ellison, turned his head to Ch'e silently requesting permission to fire, receiving from the Warrant Officer a positive nod of his head.

"Well here goes nothing" he thought to himself giving the cord a determined tug.

The thunder clap as the gun fired drew from the crowd around it a cheer, which rose even louder when the shell exploded short of its target on the river bank below the bridge. Wasting no time, Ellison ordered the gun realigned, loaded and fired again. This time the shell landed to the left beyond the tank blowing in the side of a house. The next was to the right and short.

As he directed the laying of the gun for the fourth attempt a spout of water from an explosion shot up from the river a hundred yards to their front. On firing the fourth round that fell short on the bridge, setting alight to a stranded lorry, a second explosion occurred just behind them in the houses. They were being ranged on by a mortar. While sighting down the barrel a third mortar bomb, arriving as silently as the first two, exploded thirty yards to their right on the river bank wounding two soldier spectators. On loading the gun another bomb exploded twenty yards to its front, shrapnel fluttering through the branches of the trees, scattering the watching company into cover. Taking up the lanyard for the fifth shot, Mark ducked to one side as another bomb landed behind the gun this time killing three men from the 1st platoon. Without looking at his target, Mark, yanked the lanyard, which he might not have done if he had glanced towards the tank and seen it begin to move.

By the time his shell had landed, the tank commander, deciding the incoming fire was getting too close, had trundled his machine ten yards further away from the bridge, which was an unfortunate move for him and his crew. With a thunderous cheer from 4 Company the gun turret of the tank was blown clear away from the main body, leaving the rest of the armoured vehicle in flames.

There was little opportunity for rejoicing the event for mortar bombs began raining around the gun at a rate of one every ten seconds. Grabbing up their weapons, the makeshift crew ran for the protection of the houses.

"Do you feel pain Big Nose?" asked Blind Ox calmly as they sheltered together behind a wall.

"Pain? No. Why?" asked Mark flushed with pride at knocking the tank for six.

"That is a good sign" said Blind Ox taking hold of Mark's left hand to raise it.

Ellison suddenly turning sick tried to pull it away as he was shown a hand bathed in blood from a half missing second finger.

"No" stopped Blind Ox, gripping the hand hard to pull it down onto the butt of his rifle. "We must cut away the shattered bone."

Taking out a knife he severed the damaged portion by cutting at the lower knuckle joint. Only then did the Englishman feel pain.

With the Japanese blocking tank destroyed a battalion of the 39th Division forced a crossing that placed the bridge in Chinese hands. Wasting no time in making use of it, General Ma, while his own men secured the bridge, ordered Pointed Sword's 1st Regiment across to expand their gains on the north bank and if possible push the Japanese right out of the city altogether. "Let me see the hand Mark" demanded David Lin as the two men ducked into a doorway to avoid rifle fire being directed their way from somewhere further along a street.

"It'll be alright" refused Ellison peering around the doorway on the lookout for the enemy.

"Don't give me some hard as nails act" rebuked David grabbing Mark's bloodstained left hand. "It's still bleeding and that's not good."

After Blind Ox had cut away the damaged portion of his finger, Ellison had wrapped it in a ragged cloth to soak up the blood, staying with the platoon as they crossed the bridge ducking the sniper fire and dodging past the shattered and burning vehicles jammed there.

Removing the rag, Lin tore a strip of cloth from a handkerchief to tie a tourniquet on the finger stump sealing the flow of blood. Then using the rest of the handkerchief binding it to the hand as a makeshift bandage.

"That will have to do for now but you'll need to get it seen to soon" said Lin with real concern in his voice.

"There's a grand hope of that" replied Ellison sarcastically, lifting his rifle with the injured hand to test his grip. "When did you last see a doctor with our lot or for that matter so much as a dressing?"

Called to move on, 2 Platoon followed in the wake of the company as the regiment steadily forced the Japanese back to the northern outskirts of the city. Everywhere visibility was hindered by clouds of drifting smoke from fires the Japanese had lit as they retreated. Burning all that is lost, whether by policy or in mischief was becoming throughout Linyi an unremitting Japanese practice.

Pressing on in bold bounds, never allowing the Japanese defenders to establish a firm line, 2 Platoon was thrown out to a flank to protect the company as it made to capture some buildings forward of a high earth banking. The position Sergeant Ts'ao selected for this was a house protected by a wall that joined in a T-shaped connection with the extreme right of the banking that sloped down until only three or four feet high.

While the rest of the platoon stormed the house, Corporal Han's squad raced along the wall to occupy the junction. Beyond the small bank was a vegetable field a hundred yards or so across. On its far side a dusty road ran parallel with the bank. Beyond that was an open field just as wide as the first bordering another long high wall protecting a large grain mill.

Flushed from the house by the platoon, a picket of four Japanese soldiers were just crossing the roadway, running for the protection of the mill. One of the first to spot them, Mark Ellison, threw himself onto the bank to take aim. On his second shot he downed the man he was shooting at, and then joined the rest of the squad in trying to fell the other three. One of which they did before the last two reached safety.

Scrambling up, Ellison, without orders began running across the vegetable field.

"Mark!" called David after him, "Where the blazes are you going?"

"That one I shot" he shouted back over his shoulder. "Did you see the size of him? I've got to have his coat."

Ellison, fed up with suffering through cold nights was going after a means of keeping himself warm. He crossed the road before any enemy attention was paid him, then from the mill sniping began. Reaching the body, shot in the back but still alive, he threw himself down pushing the muzzle of his rifle under the figure's chin to squeeze the trigger, blowing out the top of his head. Pausing not a second, using the body as a shield Ellison began stripping it of anything of use.

He was an officer, tall, dressed in a thigh length overcoat, the prize Mark was risking his life for. Removing the belt he worked the coat from the officer's body, not because of his injury, doing it as smoothly as he would have like. Also, taking a wristwatch, pistol and binoculars, he shoved these into a haversack he had taken earlier from a Japanese gunner.

While looting the body, shots from the mill had struck around him, hiding close to the ground none had landed worryingly close. Now he had to face a gauntlet of snipers who were waiting for him to make his return run. Up he leapt sprinting in short frantic zigzag legs he sped back out of the field across the road and over the cultivated ground for the security of the bank. Cracking as they sliced the air around him, bullets nipped overhead, others kicking up earth in his path.

With the platoon ranked along the bank returning fire, Mark dove headfirst among them clutching the officer's coat to his chest.

"You are mad, Big Nose!"

"Ellison looked up to see a grim-faced Stands Erect kneeling beside him.

"I only risked death that I might better equip my Corporal" replied Ellison, smiling as he reached into his haversack to hand Han the officer's binoculars.

Reorganising after their assault on the houses, 4 Company were joined by the 1st and 3rd Companies for an attack on the grain mill. The Japanese, falling back through the city were seen feeding reinforcements into the mill to booster its defence as a key entrenchment for stemming their retreat. If their earlier success was to be continued, Pointed Sword would have to drive the Japanese from this mill.

Shantung was a wheat growing Province, with Linyi in the heart of one of the most productive areas. Mills like the one the companies of the 1st Battalion faced were found in every district of the city. Close to the Yi, on which river-craft brought the wheat for milling, it was one large building combining wharfs, storage bays and milling rooms. On the side the battalion opposed the high wall surrounding it had, after days of fighting, undergone severe damage that left ruptures along its entire length. Assembling the three companies of his battalion behind the banking, the commander, Major Ch'en outlining the procedure to his company officers of how the attack was to be conducted.

From the rear an ammunition resupply arrived, coolie boys with shoulder poles, the two baskets hung on each end carrying boxes and sacks of ammunition and grenades. As the men restocked their pouches and pockets each company was allocated a section of the bank, 1st Company to the left, 3rd on the right, with 4 Company in support behind the first two.

Mark Ellison and David Lin knelt side by side reloading their rifle magazines while around them attack preparations were being made. Officers and NCOs were waving their arms and calling out orders. Platoons and squads were forming up then extending into ragged lines. All machine-guns, both light and medium were tasked off to either flank, stationed in preselected concealed firing positions. Once placed out for the assault the men were left to stand or squat, idly waiting. Overhead a Japanese plane high and aloof circled the city, unknowing to the Chinese troops below, an artillery spotter aircraft. Shells were heard landing elsewhere the whole day but none had caused the 1st Battalion to worry over their origin, least of all to prompt the taking of precaution from overhead observation.

The first hint of their vulnerability from the air came with a pair of single-engine airplanes that skimmed across the rooftops spraying bursts of machine-gun fire. Scattering as if fowl before foxes, the battalion flung themselves into houses, ditches, beneath walls, anywhere that gave them protection from the ribbons of bullet strikes that lashed across the ground and into buildings. Their first pass toppled eight or ten who lay lifeless or crawling into cover as another two passes were made. When they had left, single artillery shells began searching out their range. It now becoming clear to Major Ch'en, that a battery or more would soon be registering their salvos on his battalion forming up ground, he ordered the attack to commence immediately. Planning to hold back for another thirty minutes until the sun was lower and shining fuller in the Japanese eyes, he was now having to mount a frontal attack in daylight with an even lesser edge than he had hoped for.

With the flank machine-guns firing in unison 4 Company watched the two forward companies mount the bank to disappear within moments down the far side. More firing was now heard, enemy fire, accompanied by explosions.

Captain Pai, in the centre of his command, looked first to his left then his right, then with a downward swing of his sword and a cry of, "Forward!" lead 4 Company after the rest of the battalion.

In the few seconds it took them to pass over the bank, all were presented with the vivid sight of a headlong charge by almost three-hundred men of 1 and 3 Company through hostile fire. As the front two companies crossed the road Japanese rifles and machine-guns were thinning their ranks. Light mortar rounds were also taking their toll. Ignoring their casualties the two companies pressed on, straight into a hail of rifle grenades that sailed up from behind the mill wall to explode among them.

Helped by supporting fire from their flank machine-guns, on reaching the wall, the survivors, using its shelter, made their way along to the defended gaps. Here they threw grenades driving the Japanese back, capturing the openings one after another.

As the two companies pored through these ruptures the mortar bombs that had been showering among 4 Company suddenly ceased. Not however before one of them blew Mark Ellison off his feet. Unwounded he reclaimed his legs to clamber with others over a debris-blocked gap. In the entrance a Chinese body lay with two dead Japanese facing him from the opposite side. Immediately within the wall was a wide freighting yard, beyond which was the mill building with a loading ramp built along half its length. Most of these preceding them had stormed into the mill through large bay doors that gave access from the ramp into the interior of the main building.

Seeing ample numbers entering this way, Captain Pai signalled his men down an alleyway that ran between the wall and mill building. Only partially successful due to the general turmoil and noise, 2 Platoon and half of 3 were all that were with him when he stopped at a door to force an entry. Unable to break in, Joyous Trust, the young company bugler shot the latch lock away with his Mauser pistol. Bursting in they found themselves in a huge room of empty grain bays.

The high tiled roof above them was supported by long rows of wooden stanchions while at floor level was four lanes of bays, one each against both walls and the other two back to back in the centre of the room. Separating the four ranks of bays was two wide corridors that ran the length of this empty grain shed. As they entered spreading out to search the bays, the men did so with stealth. Outside was shouting, continued shooting, screams and explosions but within this shed, everywhere was silence.

Splitting those he had with him into two groups, Captain Pai led one down the first corridor while Sergeant Ts'ao took command of advancing along the other. In loose order they moved, with swords, pistols and rifles at the ready. With the sun nearing the horizon, narrow shafts of light angled in through open gaps high in the west wall where the roof joined. Away from these beams of light the rest of the room was in gloom.

"Stop Captain" warned Stands Erect as the two, side by side, approached one of the ribbons of light that crossed their corridor, both halting together.

The room, about eighty yards in length with the corridors running south to north, they had progressed to just short of half way when Stands Erect gave his warning. He had seen movement in the far shadows and was beginning to wave everyone into cover when a burst of machine-gun fire sprayed them.

Flinging themselves into the bay three of the company were left sprawled on the floor, one dead the other two with leg wounds. As more bursts were fired, the bullets angrily ricocheting off walls and floor, Stands Erect guardedly peered around his bay wall. With rifle fire breaking out in the other corridor he exposed one eye just long enough to make out a light machine-gun being fired from the corner of the last bay. Captain Pai who also spied out the gun ordered his men forward in short dashes from bay to bay their movement covered by riflemen opposite them. Ellison in the same bay as his Captain was the first to lay down in a firing position and use his rifle to cover Stands Erect and Loyal Monkey as they slipped around into the next bay. Then as Loyal Monkey took aim in the shelter of that bay, Captain Pai and Blind Ox darted around the partitioning wall into the next.

By this manoeuvre only the front men could fire but their ease of progression was becoming safer due to the dust around the machine-gun that obscured aiming as it rose from the floor with each burst. Believing he was within range, a grenade was thrown by Guards Along that exploded short, the concussion shaking loose a curtain of more dust from the roof eaves. The Japanese returned three of their own that also exploded harmlessly short of the Chinese attackers but causing additional dust to float leisurely down. Another grenade was pitched from 4 Company with similar results. Then Mark, giving up firing his rifle because his injured hand was becoming too painful to hold the stock, noticing the floor stones, polished smooth by decades of treading, looked about for David Lin who earlier had armed himself with two grenades. Not seeing him, assuming he was further behind or in the next corridor, he instead took one from Mad Flame and threw it in the manner of skimming a pebble across water. The grenade, reacting on the stone floor as if it were ice, streaked along its surface to clatter against the end wall.

On exploding, there were cries and the machine-gun stopped firing but there was no way of confirming its damage by sight because of the dust stirred through the shooting and explosions now filling the northern end of the room in thick clouds. Ordering another two grenades to be thrown, on their detonation, Captain Pai led his men into the murk. Shooting from the other corridor now echoed and re-echoed about them as they pressed forward. Then a metallic clatter was heard in front that heralded the arrival of a grenade with everyone throwing themselves down it exploded at the mouth of a bay four men were sheltered in, wounding two of them.

Determined to end what had become a blind skirmish, Pai leapt up shouting to those around him to charge through the dust. Stands Erect, keeping pace at his Captain's side, with his rifle ready, his eyes straining into the thick veil of dust. From out of a bay a shot was fired. Turning, the Corporal discharged his rifle at three blurred forms crouched well back from the entrance. Springing at them with his rifle he knocked aside a bayonet aimed for him, with the same movement laying a blow on his opponent's helmet. Being their main attacker the others turned their rifles on the Corporal only to be rushed at by others and slain with sword and pistol before firing a shot. Pai, cutting one down with his sword, pistol shots from Joyous Trust dispatching another. Mark Ellison who had buried his sword in the one Stands Erect had struck; fell backward off balance after having to plant a foot on his victim's neck to extract his weapon.

Hurrying back into the corridor they joined a flow of men responding to Pai's call of, "On! On! Get on!"

Headlong they ran, many coughing from the dust choking their breath, into a tunnelled way leading to the river's edge. At its exit a Japanese soldier lay dying, his face bloody and burnt by the close blast from a hand grenade that had also blown away a lower arm. Emerging onto a riverside wharf Pai's men were made to take cover from fire directed at them from sheds and jetties on the opposite bank. The Captain, aware that success here was to be attained by keeping in close contact with the enemy, not giving them the opportunity of throwing up defence points, hurriedly scanned the surroundings. To his right a party of Japanese under siege were making a stand in a one storey office building at the far end of the wharf. With their backs to the river and no other route of escape they were trapped and about to be dealt with by another company. To his front was the river, smoke from fires in the town buildings behind drifting in places down onto the river's surface. It was to the left that Pai chose to press the attack, into the mill workers' shanty dwellings where most of the Japanese from the grain shed had been driven.

Rising from behind the wharf side crane he and several others had sought the protection of, with enemy artillery shells screeching overhead on their way to explode on the battalion's recent forming up ground, Captain Pai signalled for those around him to continue the attack leftwards. Heedless of the small-arms fire striking around them from isolated enemy posts across the river, 4 Company, springing from positions taken on the wharf, through mill windows and streaming from the tunnelled way, charged for the shanty hutments.

Making entry wherever there was an opening, the battle, through rooms and yards became hand to hand. With his rifle steady, Stands Erect probed his way along a narrow alley. Behind him stalked Little Feet rifle in one hand sword in the other. Following them was Mark Ellison, his rifle lost, left hand almost useless, capable only of carrying his sword between thumb and two fingers. In his right hand he held the pistol taken from the officer whose coat he had risked his life for. He had checked the magazine for round and cocked one into the chamber but wasn't sure it would fire, for he couldn't discover a safety catch. From inside a house on their left rifle shots were heard being exchanged then a burst of light machine-gun fire, silenced moments later by the explosion of a grenade.

Forewarned by guttural squealing that Stands Erect hadn't heard since Shanghai, he and Little Feet pressed themselves into the side of the alley. As expected, barging through a reed matting door screen, two Japanese soldiers in panicked flight charged away up the alley. Taking a snap aim, Stands Erect shot the rear man, collapsing him onto his back in the dirt pathway as the first dodged out of sight around a corner. Following up, Stands Erect leapt over the fallen Japanese to halt at the corner of the alley, cautiously spying out the next bound. Behind him with his sword, Little Feet was administering a death blow to the Japanese laying shot.

"Big Nose, his rifle. Bring it" ordered the Corporal looking back along the alley and seeing more of the company closing up.

Ellison, slinging the rifle over his back quickly followed after Little Feet and his corporal who were once again off in pursuit. In recent minutes gun fire had begun to sound some distance forward of them but the shells could be heard exploding just to their front. The significance of this they learned on reaching the edge of the shanty houses.

Here they stood on the northern boundary of the city. Just to their front was a track with a broad ditch running along and a low banking just beyond that. This was the southern border of an open land, mostly cultivated with green corn shoots that stretched away from the city unobstructed to low rolling hills in the far distance. Unobstructed that is except for a road that led out of the city to a bridge half a mile or more further on which joined the Yi River's west and east banks. Strung along this road, in wild retreat, was the rear elements of Japan's 5th Itagaki Division. Lorries, armoured cars, troops on foot, horse drawn wagons and carts, all intent on making their escape across the river. Between them and the road, figures, the former defenders of the mill, a hundred or so bolted in disarray across the cornfields.

To affect this turbulent withdrawal the Japanese brought into action two field guns just off the road where it rose up onto the bridge. Using open sights, firing over the heads of their own escaping troops, their shells were being aimed at the victors of Pointed Sword's 1st Battalion. One missile, screaming in at head height ten yards to the right of Stands Erect, blew a row of hutments behind him to smithereens, showering him and those of his squad who had flattened themselves to the ground, with wooden wreckage. Up as one at a run they crossed the track leaping the ditch to find protection against the low banking. A precautionary move most others who had fought their way through the mill and its surrounding locality also took.

A few yards from Stands Erect, Captain Pai had just lowered his binoculars after observing the enemy's disorder on the roadway and bridge, when a soldier from battalion headquarters, feet splashing up sprays of muddy water, approach running down the centre of the ditch.

"Honoured Captain" he blustered out halting to attention.

"Down! Get down!" snapped Pai signalling him to the ground with one hand. "What is your message?"

"It is Major Ch'en" began the soldier squatting in the ditch. "He is wounded and has asked that you come and take command of the Battalion."

"How badly wounded?" asked the Captain.

"Here" replied the soldier pointing to his groin.

"Wait" ordered Pai, "You will take me to him."

Then looking about he called to Stands Erect, "Corporal Han. Find Lieutenant Yuan. Tell him he is to take command of the Company. Tell him also we are to hold this position until dark or until given further orders."

As Stands Erect departed in search of the commander of the 4th Platoon, Pai again hailed one of his men, "Soldier Lin."

"Your hand! Can you use it?" he asked of Ellison as the Englishman joined him, moving crablike hugging the bank.

"Not fully Captain" replied Mark honestly.

"No matter" dismissed Pai. "It's your eyes and legs I need. Warrant Officer Ch'e was left in command of the machine-guns. His orders were to follow behind the attack once the mill was captured. Now we need his weapons here to inflict every degree of damage possible on the enemy before his escape across the bridge is complete. "Go! Find your Warrant Officer and bring him here while there is still light to shoot."

Retracing his route, Ellison in obedience went in search of Ch'e and the battalion machine-gunners. The wharf area he found a much safer place than when last left. With the advance of General Ma's troops to the east the shooting from the far side of the river had ceased. The office building where the Japanese were making a stand was in flames, around it laid dead, both defenders and attackers.

In the tunnelled way he came face-to-face with Ch'e and his gun teams in line behind him. Guiding the Warrant Officer and his party to the battalion's holding position, where Lieutenant Yuan awaited them seething with rage at his inability to engage the escaping Japanese with nothing more effective than rifles, he rushed the guns into action with curses and flailing arms. Ellison, thinking his assignment done was moving to rejoin his squad when Ch'e grabbed his arm to pull him down into the ditch as a stream of heavy machine-gun fire lashed into the banking and over their heads.

"Those worthless manure-worms given to me as ammunition carriers" snarled the Warrant Officer. "They have lost themselves. Search them out and bring them here."

Seeking them without success within the mill, Mark, climbed through one of the rubble-filled gaps in the wall in hope of discovering the ammunition coolies somewhere on the open ground the battalion had assaulted across earlier. It was well into dusk and as he stood scouring the darkening ground, a voice called him by name.

"Big Nose, are you in search of Many Voices?"

It was Still Willows. She and another two girls had set up a primitive aid post for the wounded in the lee of the wall.

"No. Its ammunition carriers I'm trying to track down" explain the Englishman approaching her.

"Then as yet you have not missed your comrade" spoken in a solemn tone it was neither a question nor statement.

"Missed?" replied Mark not comprehending her meaning.

On her knees bandaging a soldier's head wound the young woman paused to fix Ellison with a sympathetic gaze. "Your friend is now entered on the ghost's register."

"Dead! Dead!" stuttered Mark. "Where?"

"Just there" replied Still Willows nodding her head towards a cluster of bodies that lay in the waste ground.

Running from one to the other he found David at the head of a trail of blood. A mortar bomb had exploded at his feet lacerating his lower limbs and shearing away part of his throat and jaw. Crippled and bleeding to death he had continued to crawl forward for another five yards before his strength ebbed and death took him.

Numbness gripped Ellison's limbs so firmly it was many minutes before he attempted to rise from the kneeling position into which he had fallen. Unwilling to speak he rejoined Still Willows standing opposite her as she cut away the cloth to attend to a leg wound.

"Sadly, you have another life to avenge" she remarked, reminding him of his declared motive for joining Pointed Sword.

"More so" confirmed Mark looking up, his eyes afire, voice chilled. "For every dwarf I kill I must now kill two. One for myself, one for Many Voices."

Still Willows left the Englishman in silence for some minutes, tear tracks on his cheeks shining in the dimming light. "Before it is fully dark I will redress your wounded hand."

"If you have bandages, it is best you use them on those who need them more than I" he replied looking at the bloody rag wrapping his left hand.

"There is enough for now. A dwarf dressing station was found in the city" she told him.

"I must find a digging tool and bury Many Voices. I don't want him left like that to be scavenged by dogs and rats." Mark's comment was seriously made and was about to go in search of something to dig with, when Still Willows stopped him.

"Others will do this in the morning. All the dead will be buried" she assured him pointing to a bowl at her side. "Your concern must now be for yourself so you can fulfil your quota of revenge. This is a solution of disinfectant, take off your filthy bandage and clean your wound."

As Mark laid aside the sword he carried to comply with her request, Still Willows, her eyes anchored to the injury she was attending, asked nonchalantly, "Your Corporal, Stands Erect; he is unhurt?"

--oOo--

Unsuccessful in his quest for the ammunition coolies, Ellison returned to the Company. It was dark now and difficult for him to keep a correct line of direction. The only light was from fires in the city which was of no help to him when in the depth of the shanty village. The centre of he floundered lost in for some time before at last stumbling out onto its northern perimeter. Searching along the ditch he found in a grove of willows his Warrant Officer from whom he humbly begged forgiveness for failing in his mission to find the ammunition carriers. Admonished with a curt talking to on the importance of accomplishing undertakings entrusted to him he was dismissed to rejoin his platoon.

With the arrival of night the battalion battle front had quietened, the two enemy field guns that had been demolishing the dwellings around them, now silent. Regaining contact with his squad was a galling chore for Mark. He could not recognise features that would pinpoint their whereabouts. Also the banking was long and tightly occupied with mixed detachments from all the battalion companies. Only after a long period of time working his way along the ditch was he finally rewarded.

"Big Nose" came a loud whisper from the bank.

Dropping to his knees Ellison found the voice belonged to Loyal Monkey. He and Little Feet laying against the bank. Little Feet eating a crust of wheat cake and drinking from a water canteen.

"You were missed" Loyal Monkey told him, "We though you had wandered the wrong way and were killed."

I was sent on an errand by Warrant Officer Ch'e" explained Mark, uncapping his own water flask, seeing Little Feet drink kindling his own thirst. Taking two long swallows before asking, "What are our orders now?"

"None" replied Loyal Monkey, "Stands Erect and Sergeant Ts'ao were summoned by Lieutenant Yuan, our newly appointed company commander. When they return perhaps there will be plans for us."

"If it goes well, more fighting even better than today" spoke up Little Feet giving a chuckle. "Your gun shooting, Big Nose. You gave that dwarf iron car a big surprise."

"A shot guided by the hand of a good spirit" replied Ellison modestly, reminded of the action they had fought in the river bank that morning. Then remembering who was with him. "Many Voices is dead."

"Too bad. He could have become a good fighter." Little Feet's observation of David Lin's death was a compliment given with typical insensitivity.

As time passed the three grew silent, Little Feet dropping into sleep with the ease of a house cat curled by a hearth fire. At first warm from the exhaustion of his twilight travels, as the mid-march night progressed increasing cold began to seep through Ellison's garments. The chill effect though he hardly felt. Fatigue he was defenceless again, began to take hold. Pointed Sword had fought through the previous night, marched through the one before that and Mark had only gained snatches of sleep from the two before that, clutching his sword to his chest he fell into deep slumber.

When Stands Erect returned the only one awake along 2 Platoon's position of the bank was Loyal Monkey. Raising an arm to signal his presence "If you have orders there are no ears here that wish to hear it."

Han stood over his friend observing the motionless forms huddled against the bank, from the dark to his right light snoring could be heard. He had news, they were to remain here while during the night the 3rd Battalion attacked and captured the bridge. In the morning the brigade would again advance on the enemy. With no-one to tell but Loyal Monkey, he too found space on the bank and slept.

Before first light Slow Boil had his cook boys among the troops awakening them with a breakfast of wheat noodles, their first cooked meal for two days. As dawn broke they watched the battalions of the 2nd Regiment crossing the bridge, the 3rd Battalion did indeed capture in the night. They were off in pursuit of the Japanese, who, driven from the city, falling back northwards retracing the route of their advance. Pressing hard in the hope of compelling their rear guard to turn and fight, Pointed Sword cheered to the echo when columns of smoke were seen to rise from the plain several miles ahead of them.

Knowing this must be the result of an attack on the retreating Japanese by troops of General Chang's 59th Corps laying in ambush, none could have dared imagine the colossal extent of their victory. Catching the Japanese rear echelons strung out along the road at dawn, Chang's troops launched themselves into their midst. Closing on this scene of battle as they steadily marched northwards, the columns of Pointed Sword's troops needed no narrator to describe the events of the morning, the wreckage and sights of the aftermath told its own story. Taken by surprise in the flank along a two mile section of the road, the enemy were routed. Too dispersed to concentrate in force, as small separated formations they fell back towards the river, leaving on the road and the near fields destroyed, burning or abandoned, guns, lorries, even tanks and armoured cars. So too along the stretch of ground between the road and river, scenes of annihilation were in evidence. Field guns half brought into action, crews slain, clusters of vehicles, bodies strewn around them, corpse covered tracks of ground where whole platoon and companies elected to turn and face their fate.

General Itagaki had lead his 5th Division, a force of over forty thousand, with every modern vehicle or war, aided by bomber and reconnaissance air support, he had swooped down upon Linyi in prelude to reaping the glory of capturing the vital rail junction of Hsuchou. Unexpectedly, forced to engage in five days of pitched battle for its walls, his troops were given the taste of reversal, compelled to withdraw, thrown from the city. Now taken in ambush, he was suffering an even greater humiliation of having to retreat, beaten.

The Japanese casualty list would tally to over five thousand, a modest figure in this conflict. But the outcome marked a significant victory for China. After their humbling on being flung from Peiping, the waste of seasoned troops defending Shanghai and the slaughter during the route west from the city to Nanking and beyond, China could at last raise their heads in cheer. Linyi, defended by a scratch collection of outnumbered and poorly armed 'miscellaneous unattached units' showed that the dwarf devils were not invincible.

Relegated to following on behind the 59th Corps as it clung to the heels of the retreating Japanese, Pointed Sword reduced its speed of pace. Captain Pai taking advantage of this to refill water bottles, halted his battalion at a stream passing under the road. On returning to it Mark and Loyal Monkey observed a soldier of the 59th Corps approaching from the north. Weapon less, he marched proudly, head high, while clutching a Japanese helmet to his lower stomach.

"Accept our praise brother. You have crushed the dwarf vermin in battle" hailed Loyal Monkey as the soldier neared them.

"Yes, we killed many and chased the rest away like frightened mice. And I would be pursuing them still only Captain Shih will not let me march with his company again until I have first had my wounds attended to." The soldier, a youth well under the age of twenty, stopped when addressed. On his tunic breast, was printed his name and rank insignia while on his unit identification armband, like Pointed Sword, instead of a number there was a name, by its title a recent adoption, "Down with Japan." Although stopped just feet from them neither Loyal Monkey or Mark read these characters. Their eyes were clasped instead on the bloody rent in his uniform around his abdomen. There, being carried in the helmet he held was a major portion of his intestines.

"Your Captain Shih has wisely instructed you" offered Loyal Monkey assuringly. "Your injury must be seen to and allowed to mend."

"Continue on another four li" advised Ellison, struggling to find his voice, "There you'll meet an assembly of other wounded who should be under some form of medical care now."

Showing no undue surprise at being addressed by a foreigner, the soldier, expressing his gratitude for this information, readjusted his grip on the iron vessel he carried, turned and plodded away.

"One with such fortitude does not deserve to be doomed as surely he is" remarked Loyal Monkey. Both knew these wounded Mark spoke of; a rejected huddle sprawled by the roadside as they had passed, could expect nothing but the most base of remedial consideration.

"Yes" agreed Ellison, his eyes remaining on the young soldier as he walked away, voice a mixture of anger and admiration. "Courageous in the shadow of death, with the hopes of China riding his shoulder. He deserves a better end than what awaits him."

"Well spoken Englishman" conceded Teng, keeping these words to himself. "I pray your belief in us is never tarnished by experiencing our betrayal."

CHAPTER 11
To see what is right and not do it is want of courage.
Confucius 500BC

Mark awoke slowly his eyes remaining closed, his mind groggy. He awoke because of the pain. "Pain! Yes pain I must do something to ease the pain" he kept repeating to himself. Then moving his limbs he realised he was laying down. Too weak to rise he rolled slowly onto his stomach then forcing his eyes to open he raised himself to his knees by pushing with his arms and finding himself, through momentarily blurred vision, looking at a dirt, grubby cement floor.

Physically weak, he crouched for half a minute staring at the floor until the pain once again reminded him of the reason he was on his knees. The pain was in his bladder and he must now find somewhere to relieve himself. Pushing himself upright he stood for a few seconds, his head spinning, then reaching out, he half fell against a near wall to brace himself as he looked around. Not far away sunlight shone through a door-less doorway.

Unsteadily, Mark made his way to the door then clung to it to observe what lay beyond. It was a loading bay with a ramp along the outside of the building that ended a few yards to his left. Pulling himself through the doorway he, using the outside wall for support, moved left down the building until he reached the end of the bay and fumbling to remove his trousers urinated over its edge. Finished he collapsed to a sitting position to gather his thoughts and try to remember the reason for his being here and why. The last his mind could record was being with his platoon moving north in pursuit of the retreating Japanese.

After several minutes of sitting with his head against the wall his eyes began to register what he was looking at. To his front was a river and beyond that was a road with a bridge. Then looking to his left there was a large cluster of shacks and huts. This was where they had engaged the Japanese on the evening they had retreated from Linyi. The warehouse he is resting against must be the one he and his company had fought through. But why is he here now and how did he get here.

Regaining his feet he returned to the doorway in search of answers. On the floor around where he had laid he now could see there were other forms, twenty or so, sprawled motionless on the hard concrete. In the room's air he now, for the first time, became aware of a pungent odour, one he had first come to know from his delivery trips to hospitals in Nanking, gangrene. With a shock Mark now realised he had been sleeping in a room with wounded. A realisation that had him frantically tearing off the bandage of his missing finger to examine it for the dreaded infection. But could only see raw but healthy flesh and skin stitched over the knuckle stump where Still Willows had sown it. Replacing the bandage over the throbbing but not too painful wound as best he could, he became aware there was someone sat in the corner of the room to his left with a wooden bucket at his front. Recognising him, in the room's dim light, as Mad Flame he picked his way on unsteady legs through the still forms to sit to one side of him.

"Why am I in the room of the sick?" he asked resting back against the wall.

"Because I brought you here" replied Mad Flame offering the Englishman a wooden ladle of water from the bucket.

With the sight of water Mark was suddenly aware of a tortuous thirst, the saliva in his mouth as if the texture of paste. Reaching for the ladle he quickly swallowed all it contained to hand it back asking for more. The third ladle he held in both hands swallowing slow mouthfuls between questions.

"Where is Pointed Sword?" was his first.

"North. Chasing the dwarfs" replied Mad Flame.

"Why are you not with them?"

"Still Willows said I was to remain with you. Bring you back here."

"Why? What was wrong with me?" Mark pressed.

"You would not wake up. Body all hot" replied Mad Flame taking back the empty ladle.

"Unconscious. I was unconscious with fever" surmised Ellison. "For how long?"

"Two, almost three days" replied Mad Flame replacing the ladle in the bucket.

"Cerr…rums" exclaimed Mark in English before quickly asking "But how did I get here?"

"Wheelbarrow" the one word was a casual utterance.

"What? You found a wheelbarrow and brought me here in it? Asked Mark.

Mad Flame shrugged.

"That must have been about fifteen li" pointed out Ellison now remembering where the company had settled for the night after their first day pursuing the Japs.

Again, Mad Flame just shrugged.

"Are there many wounded?" asked Mark.

"Around" replied Mad Flame raising a hand to turn it in the air.

"How many from Four Company or our Battalion? Questioned Ellison genuinely concerned.

In answer, Mad Flame gave another of his shrugs.

"Who cares for them?" asked Mark.

"No-one" which was the answer Ellison was expecting but was surprised when Mad Flame added "I take water to those that can still drink."

Mark had learned some years earlier that compassion outside the family was, in China, a rare virtue

Being told by Mad Flame that there was food to be had from a cook boy further in the building, Mark returned to the area where he had been sleeping to collect a drinking bowl from his pack. Not only had Mad Flame carried him back to Linyi on the wheelbarrow but his equipment, pack, Japanese officer's coat and sword as well. He found the cook boy in the main hall of the building in one of the bays squatting beside a cooking pot raised on bricks with a fire burning beneath.

"Who are you?" asked the Englishman of the youth, a boy of fourteen or fifteen he had not seen before.

"Kuang-le" replied the lad rising to give a quick jerky bow. "Does the honoured soldier want soup?" he asked, reaching for Mark's bowl.

"Yes" replied Mark "And what is in your soup Bright Joy?"

"Cabbage" was the youth's answer. "It was all I could find Honoured soldier."

"You have done well" congratulated Mark "And who drinks your soup?"

"Anyone who comes" replied Bright Joy. "I try to keep it hot."

"And the wounded soldiers who can't come. Who feeds them" asked Mark guessing the answer.

Bright Joy's reply was a stare.

"Your soup is good" complimented Ellison taking sips of the hot liquid. Which having not eaten for three days he meant. It was dry cabbage leaves boiled without salt but to Mark ambrosia.

Filling his bowl once more he toured the bays allowing those that could drink to do so. There were fifty or sixty wounded scattered throughout the building. Mark refilled his bowl seven times.

As the day was ending and the light fading within the building he found a lone wounded figure in a bay on his own laying on a door raised off the floor a few feet on bricks. On approaching he could see a pot near to hand on the floor and from it the smell of human waste. But ominously also in the air was the deadly fragrance of gangrene. Intending to do no more than offer the soup if he was awake or walk away if not, on seeing who it was, Mark braced himself to attention.

"Honoured Major I have brought you soup" he announced to his recent Battalion Commander, Major Ch'en.

The officer who had had to hand over his command to Captain Pai because of his wound, laying propped against the wall with a half-filled sack under his shoulders, opened his eyes to ask wearily, "Who asks this question?"

"Soldier Lin, Fourth Company, Second Platoon, Honoured Major" answered Mark.

"Ah! Yes. The foreign one" was Major Ch'en's response after staring at the young Englishman for several seconds.

"Soup Honoured Major?" Ellison asked holding his bowl out.

With a slight nod of his head the officer slowly raised a hand which Mark offered his bowl to but still kept a firm hold. On seeing Ch'en's hand lacked the strength to hold it, he quickly knelt by the improvised bed.

"With your permission Honoured Major, let me be your hands. Your wound has made you tired" offered Ellison raising his bowl to the officer's lips.

"How many days has Pointed Sword been gone?" asked Ch'en resting his head against the wall after a few minutes taking short sips of the soup.

"Four days Honoured Major" replied Mark now standing holding his bowl.

"And you remained here. "Why?" asked the officer.

"My wound sent me into the land of dark sweetness. I have only just awoken, Honoured Major" replied the Englishman holding up his left hand with its loosely wrapped bandage.

"Are there any others who can walk and work?" enquired Ch'en, his words spoken slowly.

"One other and a young cook boy are all I have seen in the building, Honoured Major" answered Mark.

Adjusting his head on the wall then closing his eyes he asked "Have the battle areas been searched for weapons and ammunition?"

"I am not aware of this Honoured Major, but I shall find out" replied Mark.

"If this has not been done then you Soldier Lin, you, must see it is done" Ch'en had opened his eyes to look at Ellison clarifying the fact that this was an order not a suggestion.

"Of course Honoured Major. This I shall see done. But my first concern is the care and wellbeing of yourself and the rest of the wounded" replied Mark tactfully hoping the Major would see where the greater need lay.

"We must leave our fate in the hands of our spiritual ancestors and pray the gods do not turn their faces away" stated Ch'en in a soft but measured voice.

Mark, seeing further protest from him was no longer agreeable, helped the Major to drink once again then returned to his original room to collect his possessions and return to sleep at the foot of Ch'en's bed.

The next morning, before first light Mark roused Bright Joy from his sleep to relight his fire and get soup boiling. Mad Flame would not at first stir so Mark made the rounds with the water bucket. Three of the wounded he found, with limb wounds, but could walk, he set to work, one collecting wood fuel for Bright Joy's fire and the other two searching out those who had died in the night. They, after everyone had a bowl of cabbage soup, to avoid further disease from flies drawn to the rotten corpses; he had placed on mad Flames' wheelbarrow. Whereupon, two at a time, they wheeled these loads down to the river and threw them in. It wasn't the proper solution for their disposal but without digging tools and the strength to use them, Mark had little option.

Later in the morning he reported to Major Ch'en that Bright Joy had seen soldiers of General Ma's 39th Division collecting weapons from the dead in the city area. So suggestion he go north to the battlefield where General Chang's 59th Corps had ambushed the Japanese 5th Division, to see if those arms had been salvaged. Ch'en without hesitation agreed.

That evening Mark and Mad Flame brought Major Ch'en and his improvised bed with the aid of the wheelbarrow out onto the loading bay to sleep the night in the warm April air. They talked of the past, Mad Flame relating tales of his pirate exploits and the major confirming them in his role as pursuer. After an hour Mad Flame withdrew to sleep while Mark made himself comfortable beside the Major listening as he talked of the happy times he had had with his wife and young family in their home outside Foochow city and expressed a hope that his wife in far of Fukien Province was looking up into the night sky and was watching the same stars as he.

At the first streaks of morning light Mark rose to see to the Major's comfort in a dew-laden dawn. With just a glance Mark's right hand reached for one of the Major's wrists, holding the cold flesh for some seconds before pulling the lifeless body up into a sitting position then onto his shoulders. At the river's edge he watched as the rapid flowing current took the body on its journey to the sea. Perhaps, wished Mark, he will arrive on the shores of his beloved Fukien Province allowing his spirit a shorter journey to join his wife and children.

Turning away the Englishman closed his mind, there will be other bodies waiting.

--oOo--

Snapping the rifle bolt shut Mark released the safety catch then squeezed the trigger. Placing the rifle aside he watched for some moments Mad Flame on the other side of their fire, as he performed a routine the Englishman had been witnessing for almost a month, extracting gold from human teeth. After the death of Major Ch'en, Mark had taken charge at the mill of everyone there whether fit, half fit, recovering or dying. Care of the wounded was made a priority and those who could walk and use their hands were give tasks and responsibilities intended to soothe the injured through their last days or towards recovery. This was met at first by sullen looks and surly gestures so Mark wore his sword that first day which soon ended everyone's rebellious attitude.

Food was a priority on Ellison's list but proved a problem. The city had been plundered by the soldiers of both sides and what was left the remaining inhabitants were hording. However, when Bright Joy was asked where he had found his dried cabbage, Mark was shown a room in a storage building where not only was there more cabbage but in a second room he found several dozen sacks of rough milled flour. This, with water added was turned into dumpling balls and cooked in Bright Joy's cabbage soup.

Nor did Ellison forget his promise to Major Ch'en of searching the northern battlefield for abandoned weapons. On informing Mad Flame of his intention Mark was taken aback by his enthusiasm to join him. He soon learned the reason though. On arriving at the battle area Mad Flame worked just as hard as Mark in collecting weapons and ammunition but even harder in collecting gold teeth.

Despite the smell the flies and the bodies' flesh being rotted he would quickly cut with a knife and smash with a short length of iron pipe; the jawbone and upper teeth of any of the dead found with gold fillings.

Having watched as Mad Flame once again picked golden nugget from a yellowed cigarette-stained tooth and placed it in a leather pouch he carried around his neck, Mark reached for a tin, it was time to eat. Using a small metal pot Mad Flame had found in one of the riverside shacks, they would normally heat their cabbage soup each evening in the roadside hut they had made their base. But also they would reward themselves most nights they spent in the hut by opening and eating one of the tins of food found in the packs of the dead Japanese.

The routine they had been operating to was one of a two day cycle. In the morning, after Mark had checked that everyone in the mill who was fit to work was doing so, he and Mad Flame would, with the wheelbarrow, leave on the road north. On arrival at the battlefield they scavenged until dark. At the hut they would clean and oil the recovered weapons, separate gold from teeth in Mad Flames case, then eat and sleep. The next morning they would return to Linyi, have the weapons cleaned a second time, placed in a weapon storage bay and the tinned food shared between the wounded and those attending them.

In the month or so that they had spent in Linyi, only a quarter or so had survived their injuries. Of the rest only the river knows their final end. Even Mark's finger was healed and he was now learning to master the use of the hand with just three fingers. One of the first evenings he and Mad Flame had spent at the hut he had discovered in one pocket of his Japanese officer's coat a note and small bottle. The note was written by Still Willows telling him to bathe his finger once a day with the contents of the bottle and remove the stitches after a week. Mark removing the cork of the bottle sniffed its contents but not recognising it held it out for Mad Flame to smell.

"Kaoliang" he announced "Make you drunk."

Drunk maybe. But heal severed finger it did, discovered Mark.

With all the weapons seen to and Mad Flame's teeth and bones cast into the dirt behind the hut the two men sat at the fire drinking soup and eating their canned fish, Mad Flame paused, then hurriedly placing his bowl down, in the same movement reaching for his rifle. Mark too snatched his own rifle up for he now also heard the patting of sandled footsteps. By the time both had their rifles trained on the open doorway a figure had stepped through it and into the hut.

For a moment no word was spoken. The stranger looking from Mad Flame to Mark then back again.

"Who are you?" he asked in a sharp voice.

"First Battalion, First Regiment Pointed Sword Honoured Officer" barked out Mark. Both men lowering their rifles and coming to attention. For with his peaked cap, quilted jacket and holstered pistol on his belt it was obvious he was an officer.

"I am Captain Yueh Second Regiment" he announced.

"What are you doing here?"

"Weapons recover party, Honoured Captain" again barked Ellison extending his hand towards the cluster of rifles on the floor.

Looking at the rifles then back at Ellison, he asked "You are a foreigner. Why are you here?"

"I fight for China Honoured Captain" replied the Englishman.

"Are there any more soldiers from Pointed Sword?" he continued.

"Fifteen Honoured Captain. At Linyi, awaiting wounds to heal" answered Mark.

"I am going to Linyi. I must report to General P'ang. Pointed Sword is returning to the city." With those last words the Captain made to leave but was halted by Ellison.

"Honoured Captain it is fifteen li to Linyi and General P'ang's headquarters is now in the Governor's summer residence four li to the west of the city" offered Mark.

Ellison's thanks was a nod followed by a grunt.

"Honoured Captain our humble meal is but soup and fish. But you are welcome to eat if it pleases you" proposed Ellison indicating the soup pot.

"Most generous but I have messages to collect and then return to Pointed Sword" was the Captain's reply.

"And when Honoured Captain can we two unworthy soldiers expect to rejoin Pointed Sword?" asked Mark in his humblest tone.

"Tomorrow. Before night" was the reply.

The Captain was hardly out the hut door before his two escorts; who had been listening outside, burst in and snatching up Mark's and Mad Flame's two drinking bowls, gulped the contents down before with broad smiles on their faces rushed back onto the road and into the night.

"Come Mad Flame. Let's eat our fill. Then we must load the wheelbarrow and hurry back to Linyi. If Pointed Sword is returning we have a lot to do."

--oOo--

Standing on the mills loading bay Mark Ellison was scanning the road leading north, the one Pointed Sword was expected to arrive down. In a few hours it would be dark which would make Mark's reception plans for his brigade much more difficult to carry out. In his short time as a soldier he had learned that of all the hardships that had to be put up with, lack of food was the worst. He intended that Pointed Sword's arrival back to Linyi would not be one of those times.

On returning with Mad Flame in the early hours of this morning he roused everyone capable from their sleep and set them to work making dumplings on the surfaces of removed doors, building stone and brick fire pits at the river's edge and collecting firewood by tearing down shacks and huts near the river. He, helped by Bright Joy, set himself the task of providing huge cook pots to boil the water that the cabbage soup and dumplings would be boiled in. Some days earlier he had come across a room full of empty petrol drums. No doubt stored there after fuelling the lorries that took the milled flour to towns and railways. Also found by Bright Joy and shown to Mark was the Mills tool room. Mostly looted, he did find however a hacksaw and blade hanging on a wall behind a gunnysack.

For the next three hours, Mark slaved over these drums with the hacksaw cutting them through the middle, so he then had two large cauldrons. These Bright Joy would clean free of all traces of petrol with dry grass, sand and hot water.

On the loading bay Mark was constantly running through his head all the points regarding what had been achieved and had he missed anything. At the riverbank six feeding stations had been set up, four or five half petrol drums at each, cooking over the brick and stone fire pits. Each manned by two of the recovered wounded. Each supplied with ample wood, cabbage and dumplings. If more water was needed the river was at their backs. In the mill Bright Joy was stationed over two more cauldrons of soup for feeding the officers. Out on the road by the bridge he had posted Mad Flame to direct whoever of the brigade should arrive towards the cooking site.

Mark, each time he thought of the way he had hoodwinked all the recovered wounded to do his bidding unchallenged, smiled to himself. Whenever he had to get them to comply with something new, he had hit on the idea of saying, "Before he died Major Ch'en ordered this or that to be done." Today it had worked well. Now all that was needed was for Pointed Sword to turn up while there was still light.

Twenty minutes later Mark got his wish. An advance guard was seen approaching and then halting at the bridge. Soon three officers made their way towards the mill to find Ellison at attention awaiting them.

"What is this?" asked a Lieutenant Colonel.

"It is soup and dumplings for Pointed Sword Honoured Colonel" replied Ellison.

"We were not told this had been arranged. Our orders were to march on through the night. Who ordered this should be done?" asked the colonel in a bewildered tone.

"Major Ch'en before he died Honoured Colonel" lied the Englishman playing his trump card.

"Major Ch'en. He is dead?" the Colonel asked.

"Yes Honoured Colonel. Twenty seven days ago. But before he died he told us we must have food ready when Pointed Sword returns."

The Colonel held Ellison in his gaze while he spoke and for some seconds after before turning to one of the other officers a Lieutenant, "Bring the soldiers" he said, "We will eat quickly and move on."

"There is food for all officers in the mill Honoured Colonel. But please forgive my neglect, there are no eating bowls" apologised Mark casting his eyes to the ground.

The Colonel's reply was not seen or heard.

Half an hour later they were back on the road and marching away. As Mark had feared it was pandemonium for a short while. No controlled lines just a mad rush to fill bowls, a foretaste of what was to follow, he thought.

Hardly had he finished a quick tour to check that those half drums emptied were being refilled and the fires kept ablaze, when more soldiers were seen approaching the bridge. This time their halt was brief and this time all came as one, with Mark bowing to the officers while directing them into the mill. Soon the soldiers' arrival became constant and the eating points little islands of clamouring men. As darkness fell around the mill and the press around the cook point thinned, with relief Ellison realised the set-up had succeeded. The main body of Pointed Sword had passed through, over four thousand soldiers. Now it was just a matter of waiting for the rearguard which must, by Mark's reckoning, be his own battalion, for as yet he had seen none of them pass through.

While checking once again that all was well with the cooking and there was no shortages Mark spotted in the firelight a small party approach and talk to those working the cook point nearest the bridge. Both were stood erect and so they should have been for Mark could plainly see the man addressing them was Wild Sea, Colonel Lung.

When one of his recovered wounded pointed his way, Mark's heart increased its beating. Informed by one of his cooks that Colonel Lung wished to speak to him, Mark ran the forty yards to salute and stand at attention before him, barking loudly "Reporting."

"Soldier Lin I'm told all this is your doing" he said, looking Ellison squarely in the face.

"Following orders Honoured Colonel. Major Ch'en asked that it be done before he died." Mark did not smile to himself this time. Instead, to this man, whom he so admired, he felt as if he had just uttered the blackest of lies.

"Major Ch'en has died you say?" The look on the Colonel's face showed genuine regret.

"Yes Honoured Colonel. Soon after you marched north." There then followed a pause of silence as Lung stared into the night.

Ellison allowed him his moment of silence before intruding.

"Honoured Colonel; forgive my boldness but there is food for the officers within the mill."

Lung turning to his staff spoke just two words, "Go eat."

With his staff gone Lung began pacing up and down stopping every so often to stare at some point of blackness, unaware that Ellison had remained until he spoke.

"Honoured Colonel. If I may intrude?"

"Yes" was Lung's reply not even looking his way.

"Honoured Colonel another order given by Major Ch'en was that we should recover weapons from the battlefields. This we have done. We have over four hundred rifles and seven machine-guns and ammunition awaiting a decision of their need."

Now Lung did look at Ellison.

"Show me!"

--oOo--

"Still Willows!"

Still Willows, who had been crouched sorting through a basket of medical items about to be carried off with a shoulder pole looked up, then stood.

"You may go" she said to the pole carrier now smiling at Mark Ellison.

Mark was dressed for the march, pack and sword on his back, rifle slung on one shoulder and now ready to rejoin his platoon in the rear guard. But first he was about to finalise an arrangement he had struck with Still Willows when they had met while she was drinking soup at one of his cook points.

A few days earlier Bright Joy had confessed a wish to stay with him and the others he had been working with these last week. From what Mark could work out, it appeared his home had received a Japanese artillery shell destroying the house and killing all his family within it. He was now an orphan. Mark's first thought was to hand him over to Slow Boil as an extra cook boy but the lad was keen and could be trusted. So he then thought of Still Willows, who would probably have a greater need of him than Slow Boil.

"This is Bright Joy" he introduced.

Bright Joy stood beside him a pack on his back, which Mark had found for him as he did the outsized coat he wore and the cap on his head.

"Bright Joy, good!" she smiled "You will call me Miss Chou. You wish to go with us?"

"Yes" replied the boy.

"It will be hard" warned Still Willows.

"I can march I can work" spoke up the boy and meaning it.

"Good. There will be a lot to do." Her face had a serious expression when saying this but changed to a smile again when turning to Mark.

"Do you know you have a new name?"

"Yes I have heard" replied Mark, his face taking on a resigned expression.

Shortly before as his company marched in to eat, they had seen him and began to call out "Kao-li! Kao-li." This went on for some minutes until Loyal Monkey explained they had decided to change his name from Big Nose to White Thunder in recognition of his destroying the Japanese tank with the artillery gun. He also learned the reason for their return to Linyi. The Japanese were advancing in strength and General Li did not want his army cut off and surrounded.

With a parting friendly remark, Ellison returned to his company to be greeted with more cries of White Thunder. Out onto the road then south they marched. Turning his head as they passed the mill with the fires at the abandoned cook points still blazing and the half petrol drums steaming away. Ellison silently gave thanks that all went so well. Mark had engineered an act of deceit but with the best of intentions. There had been no disruption, no-one inconvenienced, no-one had lost face, Pointed Sword could now face a night march with a full belly and with a windfall of four hundred extra rifles and ammunition with which to arm his command, Colonel Lung was more than pleased. Even so, Ellison vowed that should a next time offer itself he would be thinking long and hard before taking the chance again.

CHAPTER 12
Do not press an enemy at bay
SunTzu 500BC

"Dung-worm! Dung-Worm" cursed Corporal Han pressing his body into the rocky surface of the ground he clutch. Only feet above him a Japanese single engine fighter plane roared southwards, its guns blazing. The plane's target was a bridge over a steep sided stream. At the bridge Chinese soldiers were leaping for cover or flinging themselves under the bridge. After several such passes and probably out of ammunition, the aircraft flew north.

Corporal Han rose to his feet to look about him checking the whereabouts and state of his squad.

On leaving Linyi, Pointed Sword had marched through the night and well into the next morning. Now 2 Platoon was on protection picket overlooking a bridge near the crest of a broken rocky ridge line that separated two fertile plains. Four Company had been told to guard the bridge until someone arrived with explosives to blow it up. That would not stop the Japanese on foot but with the bridge gone their wheeled vehicles and tanks would be without a route over the ridge.

Han, checking to his left and right, noted all his men were uninjured and standing observing the bridge site, all except Mad Flame who was sitting, uninterested. Around the bridge figures were reappearing in small groups either ends of the bridge. Han searching in a haversack hanging at his side took out a pair of binoculars, the one given him at great risk by White Thunder at Linyi. Raising them to his eyes he studied the activity at the bridge for several moments before someone who had come up beside him asked, "Are they safe at the bridge Corporal Han?" It was White Thunder.

"Three I can see appear to have injuries" replied Han passing the glasses to Mark.

"Yes you're right" agreed Ellison handing the binoculars back after combing the bridge area for any further sign of casualties.

"Not a good start" he added "I wonder if they will send bombers next time?"

"Dwarfs not stupid" pointed out Han. "They need it whole."

"Yes" agreed Mark "And they'll get it if that explosive doesn't turn up soon.

Han in answer, only nodded his head as he returned the binoculars to his haversack. He no longer felt an unease in the company of the Englishman. Linyi dispelled that and was comfortable with the now renamed White Thunder's return to his squad after recovering from his wound. Han's revenge for the butchery of his family had not to one degree diminished but he had soon realised Soldier Lin's hunger for dwarf blood was equal to his own.

Soon after noon an ancient lorry arrived from their rear with the awaited explosives and in a short time were prepared to blow the bridge. There was no forewarning of this to Han and his men but it was obvious to them all as the bridge area was abandoned that its destruction was near. Then shortly after a lone figure was seen hurrying away from the rearward side of the bridge there was a muffled boom. In an instant the bridge was hidden in a blanket of grey and yellow dust. But from out of this dust, rocks and small stone flew, to, despite the distance of three or four hundred yards, have Han's squad crouching to the ground as the missiles peppered about them.

The bridge, built of stone and centuries old, once the dust had drifted away, was seen to be still half standing but its purpose for wheeled traffic was ended. The southern support and all the centre of the bridge was now just rubble in the stream bed.

An hour later and the lorry now gone with the company's recent wounded, a runner arrived from the Company Headquarters telling Sergeant Ts'ao he was to send his platoon one half at a time down to the bridge sight to eat and fill water bottles. Han's squad was one of the first to go. Finding Slow Boil in the stream bed angry at having to move when the bridge was blown and cursing his cook boys. Returning to their ridge crest Han stopped to look back to the damaged bridge and beyond into the plain.

"That will stop the dwarf's tanks and wheeled vehicles but not their soldiers" his comment was expressed to Mark Ellison who had stopped beside him.

"They won't have that bridge in use for two or three days even if they work hard at it. But you're right the dwarf soldiers will just walk around it" commented Mark in agreement with his corporal.

In the afternoon Sergeant Ts'ao called Han and the other corporals together and told them that Lieutenant Yuan's plan was to wait here in concealment for the Japanese to arrive but not to open fire until they began to advance beyond the wrecked bridge. Colonel Lung had left orders that the Japanese were to be held here until dark. Then they were to follow the rest of the brigade to a small town one hundred li south where a train would be waiting to take them further away.

In the late afternoon dust was seen rising from the road far out on the plain. This was also seen at Company Headquarters for soon Slow Boil, his cook boys and the carriers with their shoulder poles and baskets were fleeing the bridge area up the road and over the ridge, southwards.

"Binoculars Corporal Han. Quickly! Your binoculars" Sergeant Ts'ao had dropped down beside the corporal who was at the moment himself observing the dust trails approach.

"Armoured cars and trucks" he hissed loudly passing the glasses back. "Remember Corporal Han no-one is to fire unless they move to our side of the stream. By then 3 Platoon should be the first to shoot. We will then join in the killing." Rising he hurried off to confirm this with the other corporals.

On his sergeant leaving, Stands Erect walked around his men ensuring they all understood Lieutenant Yuan's orders. The last he visited was Little Feet and Blind Ox. On leaving Linyi, Blind Ox had been given one of the light machine-guns recovered by Mark Ellison. Two Platoon had seldom been in possession of a machine-gun which was why it was given into the care of Blind Ox with Little Feet looking after the magazines for assured sound use.

Moving swiftly the Japanese vehicles were soon out of sight below the ridge but the sound of their climb upwards reached the waiting soldiers within minutes. Concealment for them was not plentiful, rocky terrain with low scrub bush but 4 Company used it well. They had to, for they knew the armoured vehicles approaching them had weapons that could do a great deal of damage to them.

Mark Ellison positioning himself with a solid chunk of rock nestled against his left shoulder and a low shrub to his right hiding any head and shoulders outline, then he sighted his rifle on the ruins of the bridge. The rifle he held was one he recovered from the saddle of a dead Japanese horse when he and Mad Flame were scavenging for weapons. A cavalry rifle, it was shorter in length than the infantry rifle with a folding bayonet which he removed to lighten its weight. Keen to see how effective it was Mark adjusted the sights to 300 metres and pulled the butt firmly into his shoulder.

Appearing at some speed around the last bend before reaching the bridge, the first of three armoured cars began to slow as it became aware of an impassable obstacle to their front. Stopping, the commander with his upper body showing out of the vehicle turret began signalling with his hands to the two following cars. As they stopped he edged forward until he was near enough to the bridge to observe the full damage.

Some minutes later four lorries appeared crowding up behind the armoured cars. Filled with troops, an officer climbed from the cab of the first to march up and speak to the commander of the first armoured car. After conversing for a short time he walked forward to inspect the bridge damage. Satisfied the route was comprehensively blocked he returned to the armoured car where others from the lorries now waited. Speaking to them, one detached himself and ran back to the lorries where soon the troops were off each one and in formation on the road. With several commands being shouted at once they began marching towards the bridge where the officer waved the leaders into the stream bed to cross and regain the road on the far side.

With the first twenty of the hundred or so troops mounting the roadway, 3 Platoon struck cutting half of them down with a volley of rifle fire.

Han, who had remained at Blind Ox's side the whole time, with his binoculars focussed on all of what had been transpiring, gave him the order to fire. During the wait he had been telling Blind Ox where he wanted him to place his fire. First kill the officer, then the commander of the armoured car and then whoever presented themselves as a target. This done the scene on the road was pandemonium.

With 1 and 2 Platoon engaging them from their right front flank, 3 Platoon firing straight down the road and 4 Platoon above them to their right, they were being struck down heavily without firing a shot. This changed slightly when the two rear armoured cars began firing their machine-guns but it was fitful and misdirected. Everywhere on the Japanese side was panic. The end lorry began to back around the bend of the road and was successful. The other three began to manoeuvre in the road in order to turn around and flee but only one managed to do so. The other two drivers losing their nerve abandoning their cabs, running back to the road's bend, accompanied by small bodies of the infantry who had sought cover behind the vehicles.

Seeing the first armoured car attempting to reverse backwards Stands Erect shouted for Blind Ox to shoot its tyres. Having to wait for him to replace a magazine handed across by Little Feet, he emptied it at the vehicle's tyres in short bursts. With its two nearside tyres flat the vehicle's movement became erratic causing it to hit the car behind. Driving forward it then tried to turn in the narrow roadway, giving Blind Ox the opportunity to flatten the second front tyre. Which no doubt attributed greatly to the car finishing its short journey hanging half over the road edge, the commander slumped dead in the turret.

Some Japanese made an attempt to return fire from the lip of the stream bed but were driven into cover by 4 Platoon above them directing effective plunging fire down onto all seen. Most of those who were caught on the road had leapt over its edge seeking escape down the stream bed. A number of 3 Platoon made an effort to get to those Japanese they had shot to loot the bodies and seize weapons but were driven back by bursts of machine-gun fire from one of the armoured cars that had now stationed itself at the road bend.

Now a lull settled around the bridge area, where, except for the moans and screams of the wounded, the irregular scattering of vehicles and the armoured cars firing, the battle site was an illusion of calm. Those Japanese still alive or unwounded had run to safer ground or had found friendly cover. On the Chinese side all was also quiet, holding their fire, awaiting their enemy's next reaction, something that was bound to come.

To this reaction Corporal Han had a grandstand view of watching. Through his binoculars he had been observing Japanese troops in battalion numbers marching across the plain, when vehicles, racing up behind them began to deploy into the crop fields off the road. The vehicles were pulling artillery guns.

Keeping low he worked his way towards where Sergeant Ts'ao had positioned his Platoon Headquarters. On reporting of the guns the sergeant sent Soldier Ma off to find Lieutenant Yuan and inform him that shortly, they can most likely expect to be shelled. Their only saving salvation from this would be night, something that was as yet an hour or more away.

It began innocently enough, with a dull boom sounding from out on the plain. This was followed by an explosion well down the ridge almost at its foot. Some minutes later this drill was repeated with the ranging shell landing further up the ridge. The third time the shell sailed over the ridge and was heard but not seen. The fourth landed on the crown of the ridge, where, thereafter, the single shells were walked downhill until one landed just behind 2 Platoon. Now from the plain not one boom was heard but four, their shells landing not on 4 Company but in the stream bed. Understandable because by now it was dark on the plain and deep gloom on the ridge top. Whoever was observing and directing the artillery fire undoubtedly found this a hindrance because although the salvos of shells were landing on ground occupied by the company, by now it was dark enough for the Platoons to begin to slip away between their arrival.

Dawn found the Company on the road they had been defending and marching hard, the ridge twenty miles or more behind them. It never failed to marvel Mark Ellison of the speed and distance Chinese soldiers and he, could cover on the march. Something he accredited to their sandal footwear. Boots and shoes are heavy on the feet, while sandals are featherweight. Even though they had overhauled Slow Boil and his band of cook boys and coolies, there was no intent of calling a halt for a morning meal. Colonel Lung's last instructions were clear. Rejoin Pointed Sword without delay.

It was another twenty miles and near noon when they did so. At a small town that a railway line and river ran through. The town was not an ancient established one but new, founded by three factors, a source of water, the advent of a modern railway and its availability in transporting away the abundant harvests of grain from the surrounding districts. There they found Pointed Sword, or a portion of it.

That morning a train had arrived, sent by General Li to collect Pointed Sword but with insufficient rolling stock to transport the entire brigade in one haul. So taking most with him, Colonel Lung departed with the train assuring those remaining he would return for them. He had left behind, awaiting 4 Company, the rest of 1st Battalion and half of 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment with Major Pai in command.

While Lieutenant Yuan reported to his battalion commander, the company crowded around the base of a large water tower beside the railway line adjacent to a tall grain elevator and marshalling yard, jostled for water gushing from a pipe leading from the tower, while Slow Boil made use of one corner of the marshalling yard to set up his kitchen.

With the arrival of night Major Pai called his pickets in from their posts on the outskirts of the town and led his command three miles down the railway line to where the tracks crossed the river over a trestle bridge. Where on the far side he halted, putting everyone in a defensive position to await Colonel Lung or the enemy.

Of the enemy there was as yet no sign and so too Colonel Lung but of the latter for a good reason.

--oOo--

Fifty miles down the line Colonel Lung was pacing back and forth beside the train that had delivered him and most of the brigade that afternoon. On arriving, within minutes the train was vacated, even the wounded. Colonel Lung mounting the engine cab with shouts to the crew to get started on the return journey only to be told the train was remaining, earmarked for a more important task. Lung in a rage, stormed away seeking the station masters to demand to be told what was more vital than his fulfilling of his promise, to return and collect the rest of his command.

With Lung hanging over the station master's desk after thundering into his office demanding answers, the station master fearing for his life and showing it, was barely able to blurt out he was under orders to hold the train. On the Colonel screaming back "What orders? From who? The reply returned was "From General Yen who is sitting behind you!"

On whirling around Lung found himself staring at a slight man with a thin moustache, sitting, one leg crossing the other, smoking a cigarette, his uniform intriguingly unblemished.

"Honoured General. Please forgive my disgraceful outburst" apologised Lung after saluting followed by a polite bow.

All night long Colonel Lung paced back and forth with members of his staff taking it in turns to hover nearby. General Yen had informed him the train was being held in readiness to transport a unit of his command that was due to arrive momentarily and on its return would be once again placed at his disposal. Lung, with no choice took up his pacing and resolutely continued to do so even when it became glaringly obvious that General Yen had lied to him.

With dawn approaching the engine crew returned to the train to rekindle the furnace in order to build up steam in the boiler. Once this was done the two crew remained in the cab chatting and drinking tea until Colonel Lung appeared climbing up the cab's iron steps.

"We go now. Back to the town where you collected me yesterday."

"Our orders are to wait. There is other work planned for us today" replied the driver in a blunt tone not bothering to pay the colonel the compliment of addressing him by rank. Placing his hand on his pistol holster Lung, turning to the fireman made their futures plain to both.

"When I shoot this one" indicating the driver, "You will drive the train. If you refuse I will shoot you and drive the train myself."

As the train began a slow glide along the rails two of his staff officers ran to join their colonel but were waved away. However, two others did join him on his unauthorised hijacking. The Colonel was not the only one who spent the night in sleepless vigil. Still Willows had sat in the shadows of a hut watching her colonel in his night's pacing of the whole long hours. As the train began to move she turned, slapping Bright Joy on the leg, "Come! Hurry!"

Bright Joy, curled asleep woke with a start but grabbing up his medical pack stumbled after the young woman. As a goods car with its side door opened rolled slowly past, Still Willows heaved herself aboard, quickly followed by Bright Joy.

"Where are we going Miss Chou?" he asked, half out of breath.

"To where we are needed"

--oOo--

The dawn light of an early May sunrise found Major Pai's command awake and alert. They held a position on the south bank of the river that ran thirty feet or so below and through a wide defile it had eaten into over its life's many centuries. On both sides were trees moderately spaced and free of undergrowth. Beyond the river, south in the direction the railway ran, stretching to the limit of sight were crop fields, wheat and rye.

The night, surprisingly had passed quietly with no indication that the Japanese pursuing them had as yet reached the town. Not until the sun with an hour clear of the horizon was their presence confirmed and not firstly at ground level.

"Sky army! Sky army!" came a cry to his left flank causing Mark Ellison to jerk his head up from where he had rested his cheek on his rifle while laying facing across the river to his front. Finding the source of the alarm was not hard in the clear morning sky. Approaching from the north, their underbellies gleaming in the rays of the climbing sun were nine aircraft in three, three plane formation making a 'V' configuration in flight.

"Nanking" thought Mark, "Just like Nanking" remembering where he had last seen this same sight.

During the next ten minutes the aircraft turned around the town in a half circle then levelling to a straight course, made a run directly over the town. Too far away to see or hear the bombs falling, there was no mistaking that the town had been attacked when the explosions sounded. Half an hour after the enemy planes had departed, with billowing clouds of smoke swelling upwards above the town, a growing number of inhabitants, those foolish enough not to have left days ago, were seen hastening down the railway line across the trestle bridge and away. This was followed by light small arms shooting with, in minutes the sight of members of the 3rd Battalion, stationed on watch nearer the town racing back to gain the river's southern bank.

"So that's the plan" thought Ellison taking up his rifle, "The Japs must have arrived in the night but waited for the town to be bombed from the air before attacking on the ground."

On both sides of the river where the trees grew was a broad but low rise in the ground that gave cover of from three to four feet. Behind this was where Mark lay, along with the rest of Major Pai's command, 3rd Battalion to the east and the 1st Battalion, with 4 Company the furthest, to the west. Not long after all of the 3rd Battalion pickets had reached the safety of the southern bank, figures were seen approaching in tactical bounds up to the trees on the river's northern side. Ordered to reserve their fire, the Chinese troops watched and noted where their enemy took up positions.

For several minutes no offensive action was taken by either side and then the Japanese made an attempt at the trestle. Covered by bursts of machine-gin fire a platoon rushed the rail crossing only to leave their bodies, dead and dying scattered along the rails and on the trestle. Four Company heard this but could see little. They were keeping their heads down because the numbers opposite them were increasing by the minute. With the river too deep to wade, the local footbridge dismantled in the night and the next crossing some miles to the west, 4 Company's flank was safe for a few hours but what then, a running retreat across an open plain?

This worrying concern was dispelled for everyone when to the south a smoke trail was seen advancing towards them up the rail line. As soon as it was sighted Major Pai sent runners off to each company with instructions for a withdrawal. With the train still three or four miles distance the defence line was being thinned as squads from each platoon were ordered to make for the train. The nearing of which made those approaching it stare, at first in curious surprise and then with joyous cheering. For on the roof of the rail carriage directly behind the engine stood a figure; Like an ancient warrior, legs apart one behind the other, knees slightly bent, sword at arm's length thrust high before him, was as all could see, their brigade commander, Wild Sea.

Jumping first to the roof of the engine's coal bunker then scrambling into the cab he slapped both the drive and fireman on the shoulder "Your journey was as asked, quick. But now you must show me your courage."

Lung had the driver slow his train down to a walking pace a good half mile from the river. For seeing the smoke from the town, hearing firing and seeing men running towards him, he did not wish to rush headlong until the situation was made clear to him. Still creeping forward the first of Major Pai's retreating command converging from left, right and centre began arriving at the train. With smiles to their colonel they hurried down the train to hoisting themselves into the goods wagons and open-topped metal-sided bulk carriers.

"Helmsman" called Lung catching sight of Warrant Officer Ch'e nearing the train.

"Reporting" barked Ch'e as he pulled himself up into the engine cab. "Good, old friend" greeted the colonel grasping Ch'e by the shoulder. "Quick, tell me where is Major Pai and what is happening?"

"Honoured Colonel" began Ch'e, "Major Pai is at the train bridge seeing that the enemy is stopped from crossing, He has ordered all companies to fall back here to the train by squads. He will stay with the last platoon holding the bridge."

"Good!" acknowledged Lung sternly, "You Warrant Officer, Stop the train here but watch these two, they have a great desire to run north."

With that, he left the cab to observe his men's flight across the crop field.

"Stop" ordered Ch'e to the two crew, then "So you have a burning need to be elsewhere. Well so do we but not until Colonel Lung orders so."

"Everyone, we leave. To the fire-dragoon. Run! Run!" stepping back from the bank his squad was firing from, Corporal Han, in a crouch, shouted his order to left and right.

With Japanese rifle and machine-gin fire cutting the air around them, 2 Squad peeled themselves away from the bank and into the crop field behind them. Being the furthest out on the left flank they had a seven or eight hundred yard dash through the over two foot high, still green wheat before reaching the safety of the waiting train. As they were the last and having to run diagonally for the rail line they presented the Japanese ripe targets for their sights.

Mark Ellison, one of the last of the squad, was charging through the wheat with a fury but like all of those in the field they were finding the crop a terrible hindrance, periodically catching ankles to send the runner sprawling. Most, scrambling up, ran on but some not tripped by the wheat remained down. For every Japanese soldier north of the river that could see a target through the south bank trees was now standing and firing. With just a hundred yards before reaching the train one of his squad in front of Ellison, with a cry sprawled to the ground. Stopping, he grabbed an arm of the fallen man pulling him upwards.

"White Thunder! White Thunder!" he gasped heavily as Mark bent to heave him over one shoulder. It was Mad Flame.

Reaching the train, he hurried along looking for somewhere to gain entry. Approaching a goods wagon with an open door he was hailed by name.

"Soldier Lin! Soldier Lin! In here! Quickly!"

It was Still Willows with Bright Joy. Half flinging Mad Flame up onto the lip of the door sill, the woman and youth dragged the wounded soldier into a corner where their medical packs were. Hoisting himself aboard Mark hurriedly joined them kneeling to assist Still Willows to remove equipment and clothing so she could examine the wound his comrade had received.

With blood flowing freely from two, one to his left side just below his ribcage and a smaller hole on his lower back, where the bullet entered, Bright Joy handed Still Willows a bandage-stained red with an antiseptic solution. While this was being applied Bright Joy brought the others' attention to blood seeping through the trousers covering Mad Flame's right thigh. Mark quickly wrenching the trousers down found blood flowing rapidly from a second bullet wound.

"Quick!" cried Still Willows to the boy "Bandage!"

Pressing this into the wound and having Mark hold it firmly in place while she fastened a second she whispered in his ear "We can do no more for him. He will not last an hour." Mark on hearing turned his head sharply to stare for a moment and was about to voice a plea that a try to save Mad Flame must be made, when she forestalled him with a further whisper. "He is shot through one kidney and the blood lost from the leg is too much. But it is best we do not say so to him."

At the head of the train Colonel Lung seeing Blind Ox with a light machine-gun called him to his side.

"Soldier Sang take your machine-gun up there" pointing to the roof of the carriage to the rear of the engine, "And fire at the dwarf devils shooting at Major Pai from the bridge."

"At once Honoured Colonel" replied Blind Ox pulling himself up the side of the engine coal bunker.

"We only have three magazines left to fire with Honoured Colonel" announced Little Feet reaching for a hand grip to follow Blind Ox.

"Use it all Soldier Ho! Use it all!" shouted Lung turning to glare with an anxious expression towards the last party to retreat from the riverbank.

With no opposing fire being directed towards them the Japanese were taking full advantage. Although the train was receiving a good deal of fire directed at it, it was long range and not effective but still a danger with rounds striking the whole train but mostly around the engine. There Colonel Lung stood hands behind his back watching grimly as Major Pai and his rear guard raced towards him along the rail line.

The Japanese at the trestle boldly came into the open to take aim. But they soon scattered to cover when Blind Ox opened fire. The effect was not all that decisive for the Japanese continued to fire and the rear guard did not reach the train with everyone who started but most did. The last to be received by Colonel Lung with a hearty greeting was Major Pai.

In the cab, once the Colonel gave Warrant Officer Ch'e the signal for the train to begin reversing away, the fireman shovelling coal in fiendish haste in order to do so, the driver set the train in motion.

With the engine building up speed in its retreating dash southwards, Mark was seeing to Mad Flame's comforts.

"White Thunder you must take something" whispered the wounded man as Ellison lowered his head onto a pack, a makeshift pillow.

"And what be that?" asked the Englishman reaching for Mad Flame's removed trousers to use as covering of his lower limbs.

Slowly reaching under his jacket his fist reappeared clutching his pouch of gold fillings. "You must take this."

"But that's yours my friend, for buying the boat" protested Mark. While scavenging the battlefield north of Linyi Mad Flame had spent the long evenings telling Ellison of his dream of returning to Fukien after the war and using the Japanese gold fillings to buy a fishing boat and become a fisherman. To which Mark would tease that that was not the real reason. What he wanted the boat for was to become a pirate again. They had laughed together, those nights, alone in their hut.

"No White thunder. It is now but a hope. I have seen too many wounds. I know which ones take the life from the body." With a sharp jerk he freed the pouch strings from his neck. "Take! Take!"

"I can't do that. The gold is yours. You will not die. I and Still Willows will see to that" assured Mark with all the conviction he could muster.

"If you do not take, others will" stated Mad Flame in a harsh whisper.

Reaching a hand forward the pouch was placed in his palm. "I will be your custodian then. We will both buy your boat together and I'll be your crew" replied Mark with a smile.

"Yes" agreed Mad Flame resting his head back on the pack and closing his eyes also with a smile, "Yes. Crewman White Thunder. Ho!"

"You should not be here. Why did you come?" Chih asked while stood over Still Willows as she bandaged an arm wound to one of his platoon soldiers he had helped across the wheat field. His voice deep with serious concern.

"Because Corporal Han" she began, not halting her work, "I knew there would be wounded and they have no-one else to attend them."

Rejoining the rest of his brigade Colonel Lung attempted to seek out General Yen to, with his profound apologies, inform him the train was now at his disposal. Only to find he was gone and even the station master knew not where. Wild Sea wasted not a moment in searching him out. He had orders from General Li to march Pointed Sword south and just after noon, they marched.

CHAPTER 13
Burning the stalk to cook the peas
Chinese Proverb

As the bus Chuck Ashman was riding cruised its way, with regulated stops, to pick up or drop off passengers, out of the Los Angeles suburbs into the outskirts of Santa Monica, he had a good indication of where he was bound for long before it came in sight. In the clear blue Californian sky, three or so miles ahead, two, twin-engine aircraft sparkling with silver flashes as the sun's rays caught them, were circling in broad loops. Since leaving Union Railway Station in the heart of Los Angeles it had taken him over an hour and a half and three bus changes to get this far.

At his journey's end, on stepping off the bus he found himself standing at the entrance of a large combined aircraft plant and airfield, the Douglas Aircraft Plant, Clover Field. Removing his leather flying jacket because of the early June heat, Chuck lifted his hat and wiped his brow with the opposite wrist. With midday still two hours away the Southern Californian temperature was beginning to soar.

Picking up his well-bruised leather briefcase and large canvas holdall, Ashman made his way to the main entrance where a steady flow of traffic passed both in and out. Stepping inside a door with Plant Reception stencilled on it he found himself in a room with a reception counter dividing it across its centre. Behind this stood a man in his forties, plus two desks and a woman sitting against the room's windows.

"Yes Sir?" asked the man smiling; both arms outstretched resting on his side of the counter top.

"Oh! Yes. I'm here to get in touch with a guy working for the plant named Sambrook, Sam Sambrook. You wouldn't know where I could find him?" replied Chuck placing his luggage down.

Without responding the man stood back to cast his eyes below the counter then reaching down he produced a white envelope that he first held up to read before asking, "You Chuck Ashman?"

"That's me!" confirmed Chuck taking the envelope to read the note inside.

"He says here, if you could ring up the maintenance hanger he'll come across and collect me" informed Chuck, lowering the letter.

"That we can do" replied the man. "You grab a seat on one of the benches there while Jenny here rings them up."

Before he turned to have Jenny do so, she already had the phone to her ear and was dialling.

--oOo--

"You got an awful lot of people around here in white shirts Sam" observed Chuck to his friend as he parked his woebegone model T-Ford in the back of a large administration building.

"Yup and some of them even got college degrees to prove they think they got the right" shot back Sam switching off the engine.

A week earlier a letter had arrived for Chuck at his sister's house from Sam. In it he made the offer that unless he had something better going, there was every chance he could see him fixed up flying for Douglas out of Clover Field. Ashman lost no time in firing a telegram straight back to Sam giving him the date and time of his arrival.

"I'll take you straight in to see Dud. We used to serve together in the same squadron in France" informed Sambrook offhandedly pushing a back door open to lead Ashman up three flights of stairs then along a hallway and into an office with Dudley Cliffton, Flight Personnel, in gold lettering painted on the door's frosted glass windowing.

"Hello Pearl my ever lasting sweetheart" his words were directed at a woman with blond greying hair, late fifties but tall and still attractive.

"This is Pearl, Chuck" he introduced, "She used to be in pictures until Tom Mix got a new horse."

"Sssssaaaamm" growled the woman her back straightening in her desk chair, eyes flashing.

"Just kidding Pearl. Just kidding" soothed Sam, asking, "Is Dud in?"

"Yes" replied the secretary coldly, "Mister Cliffton is in Mister Sambrook. Why?"

"We need to see him" answered Sam.

"I don't have you on my appointment book" she countered, "Besides, you're not dressed for an appointment" indicating Sambrook's oily overalls.

"Come on Pearl. No need to be so sore about my little joke. I don't want to see Dud. It's Chuck here, and it's Dud who wants to see him."

"How do you do?" asked Chuck politely, a hand tipping his hat as he gave a smile and slight bow of his head.

"I'll see if he's busy" said the woman after giving Ashman a non-responding once-over.

"That's my girl Pearl" thanked Sam as the woman pressed an intercom button on her desk which had a male voice responding immediately, "Yes Pearl?"

"Mister Cliffton, Mister Sambrook is here to see you with another gentleman, a Mister…?" the woman looked to Chuck.

"Ashman, Chuck Ashman" enlightened Chuck, moving near the desk.

"He's the pilot I was telling you about, Dud" added Sambrook raising his voice.

"Mister Chuck Ashman" confirmed Pearl shooting Sam a disapproving look.

"Thank you Pearl. I'll be right out" came back the reply.

In a few short moments the door to an adjoining office was opened by a tall thin man in his early forties with thinning, sandy, crew-cut hair.

"Hello Sam. Thanks for bringing him around" he said to Sam as he extended a hand towards Ashman, which Chuck shook as he was being asked "It's Chuck is it?"

"Well welcome to Clover Field" he continued after Chuck confirmed the name. Then addressing Sambrook, "Sam, you make yourself comfortable with Pearl here while Chuck and I have a chinwag in my office."

His was a larger office with windows on two sides which overlooked the whole airfield.

"Take a chair Chuck" Cliffton pointed to a mahogany desk with two chairs one side and one another. "Coffee?" he asked moving to a corner where an electrical coffee percolator was steaming on an oak-wood sideboard.

"Yes please! Sugar; Black" responded Ashman sitting in one of the two chairs. "Been in California before?" asked Cliffton sitting down in the single chair with his coffee after handing Chuck his.

"Once. A day" answered Ashman. "Flew into San Francisco then straight back out again."

"Well this time you should be staying a little longer" replied the older man before asking, "Did you bring your licence and log book along?"

"Right here!" replied Chuck reaching one hand into the briefcase he had set down at his feet.

"I see you haven't flown for the last six months" commented Cliffton studying his log book after just a glance at his licence. "How you been living?"

"With my sister and her husband up in Kansas working in a stockyard" Ashman replied spreading both hands as a gesture of mild despair.

"The way things have been in this country since twenty-nine, you're lucky to have the job" excused Clifton, "But thanks to President Roosevelt it looks like we're over the hill. And no-one has got more to thank him for than this company. Because of his airfield building program every city in the country worth calling itself one now has, or shortly will have, a major civilian airport on its doorstep. And that's worked out just fine for us. People are now asking for quick deliveries by air freight and we are producing the ship that's gonna do it. We got ten DC3s coming off the assembly line every month and soon we'll hike that up to fifteen. And that Chuck, is where you fit in." Cliffton paused to ask, "You've flown our ships already?"

"Only the DC2, not the 3" replied Ashman.

"Not much of a changeover. You'll see tomorrow" assured Cliffton.

"Does that mean I got a job Mister Cliffton?" asked Chuck tentatively.

"Hell Chuck, you had the job last week when Sam recommended you. Said you were reliable. Now that may not sound like much to most people but that's what we're looking for at Douglas. I've had guys sat in that chair you're in who were alcoholics, barnstormers and no licence holders. All expecting us to hire them on. Besides" Cliffton picked up his coffee off the desk to give the contents a good stare before looking at Chuck. "Sam tells me you're on the button when the chips are down. Told me about Acarigua. I worked with Warren Lynch for a year or two back in the twenties. Good man."

"Too good to lose that way" added Chuck as one of the firm's aircraft roared past on the runway and into the air.

"Right!" began Cliffton after draining his coffee cup, "Where are you staying at the moment?"

"Sam's offered me his couch until I get a place of my own" replied Ashman also finishing his coffee.

"Good! Tomorrow be here at eight. Hal Brooks, our Chief Pilot will take you up for a check-out. Then you just get in line and start delivering those ships to the customers. But for right now I'll have Pearl phone over to our medical infirmary and get you checked out."

"A medical! Now?" questioned Ashman caught out by this.

"Sure! Why?" asked Cliffton. "You're OK aren't you?"

"A1 Perfect" replied Chuck. It's just that I've been sweating away on a train for almost two days and I stink like a polecat."

"No need to fret over that Chuck" heartened Cliffton guiding Ashman to the door with an arm over his shoulder, "The guy checking you out will be Doc O'Kane. He cut his teeth in the trenches in 1918 with the Rainbow Division. He wouldn't notice a stench even if you were a ten day old corpse!"

--oOo--

For several minutes after the shooting and screams had ended ahead of them the column remained in the cover each man had flung himself to, at the side of the road on the sound of the first shot. It was night with a moon that blazed with all its full north China brightness except between periods of blinding darkness as racing patchy cloud masked its light for some moments. Just a few seconds after the moon had reappeared from behind one of those clouds, the shooting and screaming had occurred.

Pointed Sword had left their train three days earlier and was hurrying south to join General Li's main army. As Still Willows had foreseen Mad Flame had died on the train which was where Mark Ellison and he had to part, there was no time for a burial. Still Willows did try to console him somewhat by pointing out that without proper treatment for his gonorrhoea he was marked for death anyway. But it still left the Englishman saddened, they had laughed together.

Soon word was passed from mouth to mouth down the road that the reason for the shooting and halt was because during a spell when the moon was in darkness a Japanese patrol had walked into the column from a side track believe they were a formation of their own troops. With everyone again regaining the road and on the move 2 Platoon came upon the Japanese survivors just as Major Pai was making a decision on their fate.

"Sergeant Ts'ao" he ordered. "Take charge of these. Bring them with us. They are prisoners."

"Yes Honoured Major" he replied pushing the first he came to while shouting in Chinese, "Move! Move along manure worms." The rest were also propelled along by shoves and kicks from loose ranks of 2 Platoon. One, a Japanese officer turned and snarled every time hands were laid on him. That one's going to be a tricky customer, thought Ellison to himself.

Fifteen minutes later he was, with tragic results, proven right. As the moon vanished once again behind another cloud the officer, before everyone's eyes had adjusted to being engulfed by the sudden blackness, halting for Sergeant Ts'ao to pass, swiftly snatched his sword from his back and plunged it into the Sergeant's lower back and upwards. Then shouting for his men to join him stood with them at his back, sword held up and ready in both hands.

They were in a cutting, high banks both sides but the actions were not an attempt at escape. There was no greater shame in the Japanese code of honour than to be taken prisoner. Better to die than live with the disgrace of capture.

With the moon reappearing showing 2 Platoon Sergeant Ts'ao dying on the roadway a semicircle of blood-angry men had formed around the Japanese officer and his nine men, waiting for a command to take revenge. This came from Lieutenant Yuan, who, seeing his Second Platoon commander dead in the road, screamed just two words, "Kill them!."

For the Japanese officer his wish came swiftly. Perhaps it was Stands Erect or Little Feet or Mark Ellison, for all, deflecting his sword with theirs, slashed and pierced his body with inhumane frenzy before joining in the annihilation of the others.

On reforming on the road, after Lieutenant Yuan had told Corporal Han to take command of 2 Platoon, taking up Sergeant Ts'ao's body for burial later, the column resumed its march. As Mark cleaned the blood from his sword with a turf of grass he had plucked from the roadside, he harboured not a crumb of pity or guilt for his recent act. A year earlier he would have frozen on the road his principles of chivalry holding him back from such a horrifying deed. But that would have been then, before Nanking. He now knew what these fiends were capable of. It was clear by the shabbiness of their uniforms that they had been on campaign for some time; how many villages had they plundered, tortures, murders they had committed, rapes enjoyed. No. Mark had no remorse for his actions, far from it. They were just the most recent of those on a list of retribution for the Lin family and all others throughout China savaged, mutilated and butchered by the soulless creatures of Nippon.

--oOo--

"You alright in there?"

"Luxuriously so, Pamela. Luxuriously so" responded Ruth McRae to her friend's knock on the bathroom door.

This she did without opening her eyes, emerged in the delight of a steaming hot bath.

"How long you gonna be in there?" called the woman from the other side of the door again.

"All day Pam. All day" was Ruth's reply still not opening her eyes.

"Oh! You betcha" came another call through the door, "I got an interview on the other side of the river at one thirty. Ten minutes. I'll put the coffee on."

"Oh Pam, why are you being so ornery to me?" protested Ruth in a pretend voice.

"Ten minutes" came her answer.

Since her arrival in Hankow Ruth had taken Pamela Merriott's kind offer to drop around for coffee and a chat whenever she had the time and Pamela was not off on an assignment for her paper. For Ruth the coffee and chat were welcomed but it was the use of the reporter's bath that was the major attraction. In the bungalow she shared with three other girls, back at their hospital converted from a school, they only had a shower, one with an indifferent attitude in regards the producing of hot water.

Emerging from the bathroom in one of Pamela's dressing gowns, she joined the American at her dining table where a coffee cup awaited her.

"Sorry to rush you out of the bath but duty calls and I've only got one key for the door so I'm afraid you'll have to skidoo when I do" apologised Pamela pouring coffee for Ruth.

"Not to worry. I'm not on duty unit this evening so I think I'll just breeze around the shops on the way back. See if I can find something I need. Unless we have another air-raid" replied Ruth.

"If we do get a raid the Japs will go for the munitions factories over the river in Hanyang. You should be safe" assured Pamela.

"Don't trust their aiming. It can be a bit screwy sometimes. Last week they had us up at the hospital all one night because they got the aim wrong and flattened a whole street in the old city" pointed out Ruth.

"Yah. Take your point" agreed Pamela "And now they have started to push our way its bound to get worse."

"Yes. When I arrived six months ago brother Jap was a long way down river now he is just a hop, skip and a jump away. Has your paper given you advice should Hankow fall into their hands?" asked Ruth.

"Not a whisper" replied Pamela lowering her coffee cup and leaning towards Ruth "But if they do turn up, I'm taking a powder, quick" then leaning back again. "Probably Hong Kong or maybe Chunking where Chiang has set up his government now. What about you? What's the hospital got planned?"

"Well, might you ask Miss Reporter woman?" Ruth took a sip of her coffee before going on, "There is talk of evacuating the hospital but nothing firm on how, where or when.

"They don't want to leave it late" Pamela gave this warning seriously.

"I know" concurred Ruth, "And when we do it will be pitiful. We have hardly any transport, few stretchers almost no-one to help us look after the patients and… and… I haven't been pain one single cent since I arrived here" whereupon both women burst out laughing.

"Is the money thing really that bad?" asked Pamela after they had recovered.

"Not really. Living at the hospital I've no need to pay bills but it's not the point. I know I volunteered for this deal but it did say on the contract I signed that a wage would be forthcoming. I suppose I could take it up with the people in Hong Kong if I could get away during a slack period." Ruth lifted her arms a few inches above the table to show mild despair.

"How many slack periods have you had then?" asked Pamela.

"Damn few" replied Ruth, her voice calm, "I told you about my first night here, after you left me, the train. Well I thought that was to be a hell I would never experience again. How wrong I was. Those guys begin coming to us with battlefield wounds but by the time they reach the hospital they've picked up gangrene, sepsis, dysentery, scabies, typhoid, cholera, typhus and that's just to name some. We got people arriving with tourniquets that have been left on for days and days, no choice but to amputate the limb."

Ruth's sorrowful lament was interrupted by Pamela's phone ringing.

"It's for you" said Pamela holding the receiver up for Ruth "It's that bamboozler of an Irishman of yours."

"Yes Daniel?" asked Ruth taking the phone.

"Oh Ruthie my Venus. Have you been enjoying your day of nothing to do?"

"Yes I have. Now what is it?" asked Ruth knowing him too well by now. Something had to be up.

"And are you all bath fresh and smelling of fragrance of maidens of the devine?" he flattered.

"Daniel!"

"Yes. You're right. No more of the nonsense. Look Ruthie I wouldn't have spoiled your day off for a barrel of Dublin's finest whiskey but we just got word there's a ship arriving shortly from down river stuffed with wounded. She'll be coming in alongside Firefly at number two area. We'll have to offload everyone over the gunboat, then onto the Bund." There was a pause, then, "Can you make it?"

"Right away Daniel" as Ruth put the phone down she turned to Pamela preparing to explain to the American that she would have to leave in a rush, only to find her holding out her clothes. "You can get dressed in the bedroom."

--oOo--

Stopping half way up the riverbank Mark Ellison turned to make sure the dog he led had not slipped its lead. Seeing it still there, a few feet behind him, moanfully staring down at the path, the lead of course fibber still noosed around his neck, the Englishman shifted his rifle to the opposite shoulder then continued his short climb. Breasting the crest of a river's southern bank he paused to take in once more the majestic vista before him of the mighty Yellow River in full rushing flow.

After a five day march to join General Li's main army, they learned that they were now in the jaws of an elaborate trap set to crush the general's whole army. However, one week later he had slipped his forces south then west leaving the Japanese to tighten their snare around a landscape empty of Chinese soldiers. Now Pointed Sword was under command of General Shang Chen as his local protects while he carried out an explicate order, direct from Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek; broach the south bank of the Yellow River and flood the region laying south-eastwards of it in order to block all Japanese advances to the west.

Standing on the riverbank looked east along the river's course; Mark had a clear view for some distance as it sped along its final few hundred miles to empty into the Gulf of Pe Chihli. The reason he had such an unobstructed view was because of the hard labour over many centuries of those who tilled the land around the river's periphery. The Yellow River had always been known for its bounty and its sorrow. Bounty for the waters that irrigated their crop fields and sorrow for the flooding in the summers when the melting snows from the high Himalayas caused the bursting of banks, drowning vast areas of farmland and the people in it. Over three millenniums the farmers along its full length have struggled to contain it by building up the river's banks. But this then launched a circle of aggression, one that had to be sustained by both sides but neither could win. As the rich loose sediment brought by the river settled in its bed so the river level rose giving the farmers no choice but to build the bank ever higher, putting the river bed in the summer of 1938 twenty-five to thirty feet above the farmland around it.

Mark, for some minutes idly observed the croplands to the north and south then westward towards the city of Chengshew and the mountains beyond where the river spilled from wild gorges it had carved and back again to watch the activity of the army engineers who were about to alter the river's course.

For the last two days 4 Company had provided the labour to carry the explosives from the road just under a mile away, up onto the riverbank and along to the site selected for blowing. The rest of the brigade had spent their time providing distant guarding points or clearing the nearer peasants from their villages south of the river.

Turning towards where the company had its cook area set up, a brick hut near the river, Mark gave the dog lead a tug and set off towards it.

"Slow Boil" he called to the felt-hatted head cook squatted over a board chopping green vegetable leaves, "Look what I have found!"

"Ah! Good!" replied Slow Boil reaching to take the lead off the animal while calling to one of his boys "Here! Come worthless one. Hold the legs of this village cure."

With the dog immobilised it began to bark and snap at the hands holding it but his bark soon stilled when Slow Boil catching one ear, slit his throat, ensuring the blood drained into a bowl. Mark returning with the dog's liver and heart, his reward for providing the company with a welcomed meat ration, as meagre as it was, offered these to soldier Ma on arriving at his platoon headquarters.

"There Guards Alone for your pot."

"Ah! Ah! Good!" replied Ma readily accepting the dog's organs to drop them into a pot he had simmering over a small fire. From somewhere he had acquired this pot and would try to fill it with something to provide a warm drink for the platoon whenever the Company stopped for more than a few hours.

"Tiger Heat" announced Mark using the north China term for hot weather he had learned when living on the coast with his parents.

"Yes!" agreed Corporal Han as the Englishman sat himself on the grass beside him. "But you wait, it will become much hotter."

Although still a corporal he had been holding the position of 2 Platoon's commander for over a week now.

As they sat a figure came running down the riverbank from the direction of the hut where a telephone had been strung from the railway some distance to their south. As he approached it was seen to be Loyal Monkey, grinning.

"What have you to be so pleased about?" asked Mark as he came to a halt, still grinning.

"The Generalissimo is on the telephone asking what is happening. Became very angry when he was told the river had not yet been blown. Demanded to speak to General Shang. I've been sent to tell him that Chiang demands he speak to him" answered Loyal Monkey.

"Who said it was the Generalissimo on the phone?" asked Mark not believing that the leader of China would be personally calling on a phone, the other end of which was located in a shabby riverside hut.

"No-one had to tell me. I heard his voice as the officer listened. I would recognise that squeaky voice of his anywhere" replied Loyal Monkey before hurrying away. Leaving Mark to ponder the significance of what his friend had meant by 'would recognise anywhere'. Stands Erect, however, took not a hair of notice. Astonishments from Teng had lost their effects on him long ago.

General Shang, for simplicity should have been sat in the command hut, beside the phone. But he had wisely taken himself well down the riverbank under a reed shelter, shading him from the sun, sitting in a wicker chair, observing the engineers as they prepared their charges a quarter of a mile further along the riverbank.

"Honoured General" began Loyal Monkey out of breath, "It's the Generalissimo. He wishes to speak to you on the telephone."

"Tell him I'm busy" was the General's reply his eyes not leaving the demolition site.

"Yes Honoured General" bowed Loyal Monkey turning to leave.

"Wait!" halted the General, his voice a normal tone, eyes still fixed on the engineer's work site. "Tell him the explosives are not yet all in place but will be in an hour."

Loyal Monkey returned to the telephone hut in a disappointed mood. He would rather have delivered the General's first message. But he soon began to rejoice for the hour passed with no word the engineers were ready to ignite their charges, and another hour, and another. Each time the hour expired the phone rang and Loyal Monkey would be despatched to General Shang for another explanation as to the delay. And each time the general had one. The fuses became wet. They are being replaced. Water has flooded the main ignition point. It is being moved, and so on.

As for Loyal Monkey, despite the number of journeys he had to make, he loved every moment. "At last!" he said, over and over again to himself, "Six years I have waited to hear someone tell Chiang Kai-shek to go to hell and at last it's happening.

Finally in the early evening General Shang gave the engineer officer in charge his permission to fire his explosives.

"Loyal Monkey stood a few paces from the General who remained seated as three hundred yards of riverbank blew outwards into the fields below. For several blinks of an eye the river seemed to pretend it wasn't aware of this additional outlet. Then in a lazy tumble a wall of water fell through the gap that soon increased to an unrestrained rage of water.

"Soldier Teng" called Shang hardly raising his voice, having asked Loyal Monkey his name earlier. "You can tell the Generalissimo now, that the river is breached and his flood is in progress."

As Loyal Monkey departed he noticed there were tear-stains on Shang's cheeks. So that was the reason why he had delayed for so long. So the peasants in the towns and villages would have a few more hours, moments to enjoy their farms and homes before all of it and possibly their lives as well, would be taken from them in a flooding that will remain for years.

CHAPTER 14
Virtue is not left to stand alone
He who practices it will have neighbours.
Confucius – 500BC

Gradually as Mark Ellison awoke, his mind at first accepted the calm tranquillity his body felt, then with the realisation that he could faintly hear singing, his eyes flashed open and his upper body jolted from the bed he was laying on only to freeze with a cry as bolts of pain sprang from every corner of his head. Easing back to rest this on a pillow, Mark remained still, listening to the singing, while the spasms of pain slowly subsided. The song was a hymn and being sung in French by a choir of female voices.

It was daylight; he was in a room alone with a long window but high near the ceiling that was also high. The bed he lay in had sheets, the whitest he could remember, with a blanket but folded to cover only the lower half of the bed. Beside him was a small dresser, with on top a bowl, water pitcher and glass. "Sheets" he mused "I haven't slept in sheets for well over a year. Where am I? Where the hell am I?"

After assisting in the broaching of the Yellow River east of Chengchow, Pointed Sword had been withdrawn south-westwards into Hupeh Province to become part of General Li's defences north of Hankow, checking any Japanese advance towards Sian. All through the winter and into the early spring of 1939 they remained there until the Japanese attacked and forced General Li to fall back. The last Mark remembers is a night attack 1st Battalion made on a Japanese position and taking it, killing many of the enemy. But then coming under artillery fire all the next day and having to retreat as the artillery, when night came, began firing shells releasing mustard gas as well as explosives. Now all the Englishman could remember of that night was gathering his squad together, he had been promoted to corporal that summer shortly after Stands Erect was made a sergeant, and leading them away.

Extracting one arm from beneath his top sheet he felt gingerly around his head, the crown of which he found encased in bandages. Also, he found there were bandages on his arms and chest. Now aware also of thirst but unable to manage to reach up for the pitcher and pour water into the glass. Instead he rested until the choir's soothing requiems lulled him once more off into the grateful arms of sleep.

When he awoke again he found an attractive young girl wearing a light grey dress with a high collar, holding his wrist and checking a watch she held in her hand. There was still bright light filling the room from the window above. Whether it was the same day Mark had no way of knowing.

"Who are you? Where am I?" he asked.

In reply the young woman held a finger to her lips while continuing to observe the watch. After a few moments she placed Mark's arm on his chest and turned to go. Only remaining for a short time to pour and hand him a glass of water which he asked for. Seeing he could drink unaided she left.

Not long after another woman entered the room in full nun regalia who introduced herself as Mother Superior of the Convent in which he was being care for. Her age, with just her face to judge by was difficult to guess, perhaps fifty or so. They were a French Order and after Mark gave up on trying to at first converse by using his school French, they reverted to Chinese.

Mark was in a hospital, established and run here for over thirty years by the nuns of the Order of Saint Dennis. He, it seems, had been carried to them on a door by Chinese soldiers, unconscious from a blow on the head and arms and upper body burned in a number of places by mustard gas. On hearing this he asked if he had taken any of this gas into his lungs but was told because of heavy rain over the last week he must have received his burns while in contact with the ground. These burns, he was told, would heal in time as would the fractures of his skull that was giving him bother and pain when moving his head. He had been in the hospital for three days he was told but of the fighting the Mother Superior couldn't or wouldn't tell him much, except to say General Li had set the Japanese off in retreat.

When he asked how many other wounded had been taken in she replied only one other under special consideration, as he had been. The Convent's policy on the war was to hold to a neutral stance, no soldier from either side to be cared for. That way they believed they would be allowed to administer to the sick of the district unaffected by the war around them. Mark, a witness to Nanking, none-the-less held his tongue but did enquire as to why they had broken their rule with him and the one other. In answer regarding him, the Mother Superior opened the top drawer of the bed stand producing his passport. Of the one other she would not comment. Asking if he had had any other possessions, the reply was a sword, that had to be forced from his grip and as arms were prohibited within the convent grounds, it had been taken away.

For the next week Mark remained in the room, in the bed, the only one attending him the girl in the grey dress. She, whose name he learned from her was Jou-chih, Soft Fingers, was not a novice nun nor earmarked to take vows; she was a trainee nurse. A student recruited from the nearby town, training under the nursing nuns and the resident surgeon, a Frenchman who had attended to Mark on his arrival and continued to monitor his progress between tours around his district. There were other staff, nurses and trainees that appeared from time to time but it was Soft Fingers that washed him, shaved him, changed his bandages and seen to his meals. One of Ellison's great enjoyments of being in the hospital was being free of his beard and having Soft Fingers each morning gently and expertly shaves him. This continued into his second week when authority judged him recovered enough to shave himself. Whereupon after shaving him for her final time she dried his face with a warm towel then without warning bent down and gently kissed Mark on the lips leaving him speechless as she hurried from the room.

It was only in the third week that Mark was allowed to sit up and surprisingly have a visitor.

"Joyous Trust" shouted Ellison swinging his leg off the bed to sit on its edge, "Where did you come from?"

"Here, White Thunder" he replied looking only half dressed without his bugle and pistol hanging around his neck. "I would have come sooner but was always told you couldn't see anyone yet."

"Well never mind" dismissed Mark, "Where is everyone? How are they?"

"Gone" replied the youth, "Pointed Sword gone!"

"Gone? Where?" questioned Ellison, "Why without you?"

"They marched away the day after we were taken in here" informed the boy seating himself on the floor. "There were not so many. We had a lot killed, Colonel Lung is dead."

"Wild Sea, dead. Dead" Ellison sat stunned. The heart and inspiration of Pointed Sword's very soul, dead. "How?"

"Gas. The dwarf devil's gas" Joyous Trust spat the words out in anger. "It landed on Wild Sea's headquarters. Not many lived."

"Stands Erect, Still Willows, Bright Joy, Are they….?"

"Oh yes" interrupted Joyous Trust. "It was they who brought you here. You were injured by dwarf artillery shells. Still Willows and Sergeant Han took a door from an old hut and the Company carried you. Still Willows spoke to the nuns and they allowed you in."

"But why are you here and not gone? Were you injured?" asked Mark.

"Colonel Pai is here so I stay" replied the youth.

"So he is the other" thought Mark.

"He is wounded?" asked Ellison. "How bad?"

"His hand. It is gone" replied Joyous Trust, making a chopping motion with his right hand of his left. "When you were taken in here Colonel Pai had come to see you were accepted. Then as we turned to leave he fell down unconscious, he had lost the hand two days before. Then Still Willows did something strange. She took that Christian cross she always wore on her neck and put it on the Colonel's. Then she banged on the gate until a nun came again and showed the cross to her. Now he is here and getting well but not happy. He feels he is not whole any more and can no longer be a soldier."

"Untrue" disagreed the Englishman vigorously, his voice raised and firm.

"It is how he feels White Thunder. Not spoken to me that way but you can see this as he sits in the garden. Unhappy" explained the youth.

"Perhaps I should talk to him" suggested Mark.

"Yes! Perhaps that would be good. It was he who sent me to you. But I would wait until they allow you to walk in the garden. It must look as if you have come to pay your respect" advised Joyous Trust.

That did not occur for another week when Mark's head bandages had been removed. Wearing a Chinese gown and cloth sandals he found Colonel Pai sitting on a plank bench, under a willow tree beside a small pond. The convent was large and walled with the hospital built against the north wall and the living quarters built against the south wall. Between was the garden of pathways, grass areas, flower beds, shrubs, a number of trees and the pond.

"Honoured Colonel" Mark announced himself, bowing. Pai had been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel that winter to fill a vacancy in the First Regiment's Headquarters.

"Ah Corporal Lin" greeted Pai with an authoritative voice, straightening his back. "You are looking well. Do you feel recovered?"

"Yes, Honoured Colonel" replied Mark "But I feel unworthy of all the fine treatment the establishment here has provided me."

"Yes. They have here the best means of making the sick well" agreed Pai with just a hint in his voice that some may look upon this unwelcomely.

"Honoured Colonel" ventured Ellison "Forgive this humble Corporal for asking but will we be rejoining Pointed Sword soon?"

"It will all depend on how quickly your wounds heal Corporal Lin."

"Mine, Honoured Colonel are almost cured. So will I have the illustrious distinction of accompanying your return?" Mark bowed slightly at the waist, avoiding eye contact.

"Your eagerness is commendable Corporal Lin" answered Pai holding up the bandaged end of his left arm, "But your eyes lack seeing. You may well rejoin Pointed Sword but I no longer have a role to fill as a soldier."

"Honoured Colonel" began Ellison again bowing, "Forgive this unworthy Corporal for speaking so frankly but although you may no longer swing your sword with two hands, you still have the capability of command and the soldier's wisdom to defeat the accursed Japanese devils in battle."

For a brief moment their eyes met. Then Mark looked down.

"Corporal Lin" began Pai with a faint smile, patting the bench beside him, "Come, sit, and tell me about England.

--oOo--

"Chuck! Chuck! Get outta the sack and open the door!"

Chuck Ashman, only half asleep having awoken earlier and determined to enjoy a peaceful morning lie in, rolled on his back to shout back, "Who is it? Whaddya want?"

"It's Sam, Chuck, Open the door. Ya gotta go to China."

Chuck Ashman had just spent the most enjoyable and fulfilling year of his flying career. Working out of Clover Field for the Douglas Aircraft Company was proving to be a dream job. Delivering band new DC3s to customers the length and breadth of America and Canada and if a return lift by air could not be found it was train travel first class and the money was good. He had a decent second-hand car, and rented two rooms in a house owned by a middle aged widow who provided his meal and did his washing. Being away half the time this was working out just fine for both he and his landlady.

Climbing from the bed Chuck looked at his watch puzzled as to why Sam Sambrook was banging on his hotel room door. It was eight o' clock. He should be taking off for South America right now.

The day before, he, Sam, and his Chinese co-pilot Jimmy Ying had flown a mint new DC3 from Santa Monica to Miami International Airport or, as Chuck knew it, Glenn Curtiss Field, for ferrying half across the world to China. A Chinese air firm had bought the plane with options on three more but payment would only be made in China. Jimmy Ying, an American Chinese, who only just qualified for a multi-engine pilots' licence was to remain in China flying for the air firm. Sam would be staying with the same company.

When the buyer had struck his deal with Douglas, he also made enquiries about employing aircraft mechanics to service and repair the new aircraft. Sam was one he was recommended to, who when the wages were mentioned, jumped at the chance.

"Sam! What the hell are you doing here kicking my door in? You should be zooming your way to Santa Domingo" demanded Chuck wrenching his hotel door wide open. He had been looking forward to an easy morning with a late breakfast before catching his train back to California.

"You got your passport here?" asked Sambrook bursting into the room in an agitated state Chuck had never seen before.

"Should have" answered Chuck pointing to his briefcase on a chair, "In the brief."

Sam leapt on this, rifling the contents.

"Should be in the inside pocket" suggested Chuck mystified by Sam's actions reaching for a pair of trousers.

"Yippee! It's in date" shouted Sambrook having snatched out Chuck's passport and quickly flipped it open.

"Well what are you throwing your sombrero in the air for?" asked Ashman fastening his belt.

"It's that sour-balled deadhead, Saunderson. I knew there was something not right with him when I first laid eyes on him" snapped Sam in reply.

Mat Saunderson was the pilot hired by the Chinese airline to ferry the plane out to China and fly it there for them. They had met him in the hotel bar the night before, had a few beers then left him there about ten.

"He didn't show for the taxi at six this morning so me and Jimmy headed out to the field to see if he had gone ahead" explained Sam getting more worked up with every word. "No show. So I beat it back here. He's not in his room. So I dug the barman outta his bunk, none too pleased about it. Said Saunderson went down town lookin' for some action in the bright lights when he closed the bar. Put him in the taxi himself, plastered. So, he's probably being swept outta some honky-tonk gutter right now when we should be winging it over blue water.

"Oh no! On no Sam! It's not on!"

When Sam finished Chuck suddenly remembered what he had shouted through the door. "I ain't scootin' off with you to China. I got a nice leisurely first-class train ride waiting for me."

"Come on Chuck. You're the only guy who can pull us out of the soup on this, and besides, we got a sizeable bonus waiting at the other end if we get the crate delivered by the eighteenth next week." Sam's finish was a plea.

"Sam, I can see you're stuck on this…."

"Don't leave us up the creek Chuck" interrupted Sambrook, "I'll square it with Clover. See the desk downstairs. Get a telegram off."

"Look Sam" began Chuck determined not to get hauled into the trip. "I've had going overseas. What I'm doin' here in the States is just the ticket. Right now it's the only job I want."

"You wouldna had the job if I hadna gone to bat for ya!" pointed out Sam.

Chuck said nothing for several moments then "Alright. Give me ten minutes for a shave."

"Hell no" whooped Sam snatching up Chuck's briefcase to replace his passport" just grab your duds. You want a shave you can have one tonight in Caracas.

Halting briefly in the lobby to pay his room bill, Chuck reminded Sam about the telegram only to be told, "No need. Already sent it!"

--oOo--

Turning at the gate, Mark Ellison faced towards the man standing beneath the Willow Tree, then coming to attention he saluted. With an acknowledging salute being returned, the Englishman, after seven weeks of exceptional medical care, left the Convent of Saint Dennis through its main entrance.

For the last hour he had toured the whole convent premises thanking all those who had attributed to the saving of his life. For that is what they had done. Disregarding the damage to his head the gas burns themselves if unattended would have turned septic. He shook the hand of Louis Lenglen the surgeon, received a smile from the Mother Superior, thanked the cooks, joked with the cleaners and gardeners and made the trainee nurses laugh. The only one he was unable to say goodbye to be Soft Fingers. Of all the days to be missing, for Mark, a sad disappointment.

The last to receive his goodbye was Colonel Pai, alone together they sat, as they had done for long periods over the last four weeks. Their talk was of many things, China, past and present, the war, Amoy his home in Fukien Province and England. He would ask question after question of Mark about his country and the people.

Stepping out onto the road Mark knew he was setting himself, what could be an exacting quest, finding the whereabouts of and rejoining Pointed Sword. South he turned, because that was where he was told the front would be found. Not far from the convent the road was taken over a small river by a stone hump-back bridge. On the other side of which was a grove of trees where a young woman waited. Mark, on seeing her, smiled and kept smiling even after reaching her.

"I thought I would have to leave without saying goodbye to the one person who made my recovery a continuing pleasure and whose presence made my heart so feather light." Soft Fingers began to blush as she brought from behind her back something long and covered with a cloth.

"For you White Thunder." Holding it out with both hands.

Removing the cloth, Mark found it was his sword. Repeatedly he had politely asked for its return but was told each time it was removed.

"I took it from the storeroom" confessed Soft Fingers.

"Again, Soft Fingers I am in your debt. This and I are as brothers" said Mark in an expression of gratitude.

"If its return makes you happy, so I am happy too" replied Soft Fingers smiling.

"Yes, I am! I am very happy" thanked the Englishman before continuing. "But there is one thing that would make me even happier. In my country when a young man and young woman part they always kiss. You kissed me once. Now that we are to part I want to taste your lips once more."

As Mark lowered his head Soft Finger raised on her toes. As their lips touched Soft Fingers' eyes closed. Then all too quickly she dashed away stopping twice, once before the bridge and again on the crest of it. Both times looking back but not waving. Then she was gone.

Once Mark was sure that the girl was no longer in sight he removed the sword from its scabbard.

It was very much of a Norman design, a three-foot double-edged blade with a single eight inch metal hand guard. The heel of the hand grip was a brass knob that Mark found shortly after taking possession, could be unscrewed, revealing the handle to be hollow.

Balancing the sword on the side upright fingers of one hand he moved the hand nearer and nearer to the hand guard until he had the blade balanced. "Yes" he said to himself, "They must still be there."

Looking around to check that no-one was watching, he unscrewed the handle's knob, removing the dry grass he had stuffed tightly in. Then, tilting the sword, Mad Flame's gold fillings poured into his palm.

The next day having slept the night in the shelter of a bush, entering a town he sought out a goldsmith's shop and bartered the price of one of the fillings, getting up twice to leave but called back each time. With the money he then had a uniform made at a tailors shop. The material was cheap cotton, dyed a pale brown but would do for the purpose intended. The clothes given him at the convent, a mishmash assortment, would have put him under suspicion from anyone of authority. It was difficult enough explaining himself as a foreigner serving in the Chinese army without having to prove his innocence of being a spy. The next morning, after spending the night in the local Inn, he collected and changed into his new dress, then set off once more on his quest.

The following day, still proceeding south an American Ford car sped past, also going south, then suddenly halted ahead of him. Motor traffic on this road was nearly non-existent so the arrival of this car was a rare event.

With the car's trailing cloud of dust drifting away, Mark caught sight of someone climbing from the vehicle to stand at its rear, an army officer. Realising he intended to confront him, Mark ran quickly to him halting at attention, saluting.

"Corporal Lin, pointed Sword Brigade, reporting, Honoured Major" he barked out remaining still.

"You are a foreigner?" This was a question not a remark.

"English, Honoured Major" was Ellison's quick reply.

"You are an Englishman in a new, unsoiled Chinese uniform? Walking a road in the middle of China?" This was also meant that an explanation be forthcoming.

"Just released from hospital. I am in search of my Brigade, Honoured Major" holding himself straight Mark remained at attention.

Making no reply, the Major moved to an open rear window of the car and began to speak, the words of which Mark could not hear.

Called to the car, the Major indicated the window with "General Li would speak with you."

Again, Ellison halted to attention, saluting, "Reporting Honoured General" hoping his astonishment was not apparent.

Within the car a voice asked, "You are English?"

On confirming this he was then asked, "And you are a soldier in the Chinese Army?"

"Pointed Sword Brigade Honoured General."

"Why?" asked the General.

"To avenge, Honoured General."

"Avenge! For what?" the General's face now appeared at the window.

"Nanking, Honoured General."

"So you heard of the Japanese barbarity on capturing the city?" assumed Li.

"No! Honoured General. I was there" Mark's eyes were firmly fixed on a point beyond the car roof.

There was silence from within the car but not for long.

"Major Chiao we will continue our journey but you take the front seat. I will talk with this Corporal."

In hardly an instant Mark found himself sat in the car, his sword and the pack he had purchased the day before, on his knees. For the next half hour General Li questioned him on Nanking and his flight from it.

"Tell me" asked the General, "You have taken Lin as your Chinese name. But what is your English one?"

"And what do the soldiers call you" he further asked after being told Mark's name.

"At first Honoured General" began Mark, "They called me Big Nose." The General allowed himself a smile. "But then they changed that to White Thunder."

"And why White Thunder?" Li's expression was now one of curiosity.

"It was at the Battle of Linyi Honoured General" mildly embarrassed began Mark. "There I had, through the benefit of a helpful spirit I'm sure, the good fortune of destroying a dwarf tank with the aid of one of their own field guns."

The General slapping his knee and roaring with laughter had Major Chiao turning around to investigate the cause of his General's merriment.

Another half an hour later Mark found himself stood at a fork in the road saluting the dust-hidden car as it sped away leaving him to revel in the luck of the innocent that had put him on this road at this time. Thanks to Major Chiao and his, as General Li put it, knowledge of all things, he now knew that Pointed Sword was at Chunking reforming after severe losses and that this other road put him in that direction. He was also more than overjoyed when he was able to mention Lieutenant Colonel Pai's circumstances, only for the General to tap his Major on the shoulder and tell him "Make a note of that convent. I have uses of officers like Pai. We will stop there on our return."

Ellison with the shadows of the surrounding trees beginning to lengthen, fixed his sword and shouldered his pack before taking his first steps on a journey to China's new capital, a distance, according to Major Chiao of four hundred miles.

--oOo--

Being held between two pairs of strong arms, Ruth McRae needed only to concentrate on keeping her footing on the slippery rain-washed riverbank. Reaching the shore she was lifted into a sampan to huddle under a reed-roofed shelter out of the rain. It was midsummer of 1939; she was on the Yangtze River and continuing on a journey into the unknown.

Nine months earlier she volunteered to escort a number of civilian injured from Hankow down the railway line to Hong Kong. Her motives were not altogether befitting of her Hippocratic Oath. Ruth needed a break from the misery and death of those she had to administer too and the soul-wrenching acts of playing God with patients. Putting some aside to die, while struggling to save others. Arriving in Hong Kong, once free of her charges, she sought out the office of the Chinese Red Cross Medical Commission only to find it shut and having to return the next day to wait an hour for it to open. She was after an explanation as to why she was not being paid; not because she wanted the money but because of the principle of her contract. She was upholding her end and would like to see the CRCMC show similar consideration. She left their office two hours later having, begrudgingly it seemed to her, been allowed two hundred Chinese dollars.

Ruth spent a week in the colony just resting and eating before catching a train north. Beyond Hengyang the passengers in her carriage had thinned considerably not that she noticed, for she had nodded off, stretched out on the compartment seat, awakening hours later, she found sitting on the opposite seat four Chinese soldiers, all smiling broadly. In the corridor there were more, either sitting hunched up or standing. This was most unusual. Troops on a civilian passenger train which prompted her to consider making enquiries but seeing the corridor was solid with soldiers she returned to her seat. Whereupon three other soldiers from the corridor promptly took up the other seats.

From her holdall she took out a bag of boiled sweets and idly began to suck one. Staring for a few minutes out the window on looking around she found each of the soldiers fixing her with a gawk expression. Suddenly dawning on her why it was she passed each one a sweet, causing an explosion of chatter and smiles.

Through the night the train continued on, Ruth dozing fitfully impatient to, not return to Hankow, just to be off the train. Before dawn a stop was made at the station of a small town where, as shouting and orders were bawled without, the soldiers hurriedly vacated the train. Unfamiliar with the route, having only travelled it once before, Ruth sat alone waiting for her journey to continue and waited and waited.

After half an hour, with the appearance of a full dawn she took the decision to enquire as to the delay. Finding the carriage completely empty she stepped out onto the platform where she could only see soldiers and coolies both busy further along the platform unloading what looked to be ammunition boxes. At this point she also began to define the faint rumbling above the platform clatter as gunfire. On asking an officer who was observing the work details when the train would be leaving for Hankow, Ruth was shocked to be told she was on the wrong line and the train was to remain for the army's use. Explaining to the officer that the train, unknowing to her, had been misdirected, Ruth asked who she could see in regards to resuming her journey to Hankow.

Returning to the carriage to collect her holdall and a medical bag that she had taken into the habit of keeping with her at all times she set off down the street to a hotel that the army was using as a headquarters. When only a few dozen yards from the main entrance, her attention was drawn back to the station because of shouting. These by soldiers and coolies leaping and scurrying away from the rail area. Unable to comprehend the reason for this Ruth continued to watch until suddenly explosions began occurring east along the rail-line. Bombing, she realised, from her months of it in Hankow.

Looking up she could see planes very high and unheard flying a course along the railway line. In just a few seconds the explosions had advanced in a broad line up the railway and engulfed the station.

Ruth threw herself down in a doorway as blast waves blew in windows and sent flying anything not secured. Lying hunched in the doorway, arms protecting her head, knees drawn up, she remained so while debris and missiles sent into the air crashed into the street around her. Once the explosions had ceased and the heavens had emptied of flying stonework and timbers Ruth climbed to her feet. The street was a shambles but the buildings were intact, not however the station. Through the smoke and dust she could see it was in a destroyed state. Instinctively she snatched up her medical bag and began to run towards the station. Soldier and coolies, those whole, were in a stunned state, bodies and parts of bodies lay everywhere while cries and moans added voice to a scene of tragedy. The station was a shell and the train crumpled and scattered about the line. Her carriage, which she could have well still been in, a shattered wreck. There were some fires but none massive and of little danger of spreading.

Looking about she spotted a large shed that still had most of its roof, this would be her aid station. Dashing across to two soldiers who stood against a building, apparently uninjured and typically Chinese, making no move to help those that were, she began to give them orders. Thanking providence that she had made the effort over the previous months to learn enough of the language to make herself understood. With them in tow she sought out her first patient, a coolie with one foot missing. Putting a makeshift tourniquet on the leg and bandaging the stump, she directed her two soldiers to carry him to the shed and then to return to her.

This routine she built on roping in more uninjured soldiers and coolies to assist. Soon instead of looking herself, her helpers were bringing those wounded to her at the shed. Running out of her meagre supply of bandages she despatched some of those she considered most able to hunt out and find any cloth material that would make do as bandaging. One returned with a large spool of white cotton that Ruth had torn into narrow lengths and rolled.

"Are you a nurse?" asked a voice as Ruth struggled to bind a soldier's chest wound with one of these new bandages. The question was spoken in English.

"No. I'm a doctor" replied Ruth briskly not even looking to see who asked.

"Good!" replied the voice, "You will come with me."

Ruth did look now. Stood beside her was a tall army Major leather Sam Brown belt with pistol holster and highly polished calf length boots.

"And where?" asked Ruth continuing her bandaging.

"To our Headquarters. Serious injured who need your services" answered the Major.

"Injured more serious than these?" With her hands not free Ruth had nodded towards the wounded laying in rows under the shed. "Major as you can see I'm the only one here with medical training and needed even more so. Surely your own doctors and medical orderlies can see to them."

This remark from Ruth was in bad taste and petty. She would have put money on the fact that there wasn't any army doctor or anyone half like one within a hundred miles. This general lack of Chinese doctoral staff she had realised the depth of some months earlier but at the moment she was struggling with overwhelming events and in no mood to be ordered around.

"These are of little consequence at the moment" replied the Major gesturing a hand airily at the ranks of wounded. "It is my General who is in the greater need."

"Where is your General and what are his injuries?" asked Ruth finishing her bandaging.

"He is in his office at our Headquarters. He was standing at his window when the bombs landed; he has cuts and glass splinters of his face." The Major had pointed at the building down the street that Ruth had almost entered before the bombing.

The doctor seeing the opportunity for some old fashioned horse trading rose to her feet looking the Major square in the eyes.

"Major. If you can see these wounded are moved to a more comfortable location I will come."

"This I will see to but now come, we must hurry."

The Major had turned to lead the way even before he had finished his words.

Some time later as Ruth rinsed blood from her hands after applying bandages to the General's face and hands, who had sat in his office chair the whole time, she, in a low voice gave the Major her pronouncement on his chief's prospects. "The facial cut and those on his hands will heal with treatment but he has splinters in both eyes that must be removed. Is there a hospital nearby?"

"No" replied the Major bluntly while in the same breath, "You are a doctor. You must do this."

"I, Major, haven't the means. It would have to be done under proper operating conditions with the General sedated."

"And if you had these conditions?"

Ruth didn't reply right away for the question hinted of something hidden.

Twenty minutes later she and the Major's rickshaws came to a halt at a gate beyond which was an estate of houses and bungalows. With a shout from the officer, a gateman appeared unlocking the gate. The grounds, obviously at one time well attended, were now in the early stages of becoming overgrown. On the outer wall Ruth caught sight of a sign but it appeared to be in French. With the gateman leading they were taken to one of the bungalows where the sign there needed no translating, Infirmary.

On entering Ruth spent the next ten minutes discovering a medical Aladdin's Cave. There were wards with beds, a bedding store, medical store-room, a drug and medicine stockroom, kitchen, and an operating room. It was not fitted out as a proper theatre but in regards surgical facilities it was a golden find.

Sending the Major off to fetch his General, Ruth began to grill the gateman. Apparently this had been a Belgian mission set up but because of the Japanese advancement were, six months earlier, ordered home at a moment's notice, dismissing the Chinese staff and leaving just the gateman as the sole presence. Thinking fast the doctor asked if any of the staff were still around and available. Scratching his head the gateman replied "Yes! A few" That was enough for Ruth setting him away in search of as many of these few as he could possibly track down. She also sent her rickshaw boy off to the railway station to see if the Major was having the wounded moved to the Mission as she recommended before he had left. She had a feeling about the Major, prepared to move heaven and earth for his General; it was nil effort for anything else.

Standing alone in that Mission Infirmary that warm October morning she had no idea of the undertaking she was about to get involved with. The General's operation was a success but he had to remain at the Mission for over a month in a private room. The first two weeks, blind with bandaged eyes and the rest wearing dark glasses. The general was a Corps Commander with four full Divisions to control and this he did from his bed, blind or otherwise, the Major and other officer constantly on call to do his bidding. This worked well for Ruth because although the Major, now his General was on the mend, showed little interest in the functioning of the hospital, because that is what it had become, the General though differently. If he could provide it she would receive it.

Getting a letter off to her CRCMC office in Hong Kong and another to Doctor Teng in Hankow explaining her situation, they had only been sent a few days when the devastating news that Hankow had fallen to the Japanese was learned. From then on contact with her former colleagues ended, not one word of their fate reaching her. With Hong Kong though, she did make contact. A letter advising her to remain at present location and give to the Army in her area all service and support possible. No extra help, medicines, bandages or money but at least she had their blessing in the actions she had taken.

A fortunate undertaking for both as it turned out. When in December the Japanese launched an attack from the sea capturing Canton and the rail route from Hong Kong cutting one of China's major war supply arteries into the country which also left Ruth isolated from any further contact with the organisation that employed her. Undaunted she soldiered on, still the only doctor in the hospital. Thankfully all other tasks were taken on by many of the original staff who had returned to their old jobs on hearing the premises were re-opening under new management. Fortunately funding for their wages was found by the General who also saw to the hospital's food requirements and re-supplying of medical stores and other general needs. Ruth had no way of knowing how the General, before the bombing, had viewed medical requirement for his soldiers but after, she could not fault him. Perhaps having to spend two weeks as a helpless blind may have contributed to his eagerness.

For Ruth, the experience was many things. Exacting, invigorating and satisfying. Exacting because being the only doctor when a heavy batch of wounded arrived without warning she would be at full stretch, sleeping where and when she could. Invigorating because of the decisions she was constantly being required to make and after the first month being right most of the time. Satisfying because compared to Hankow the percentage of lives saved was far higher.

What mainly kept her going was the sure knowledge that the situation as it was could not continue. At least another doctor was bound to be sent to them. Ruth was right, the situation did not continue but its end was one of tragedy. After many months of stalemate on their front the Japanese brought in boats and mounted a lake crossing that outflanked the Chinese defences causing the hospital to be abandoned. From that point Ruth lost all control of her destiny.

Obliged to conform to the Army's retreat she found herself surging first one way then another but always under guidance. She was the doctor, someone invaluable, to be protected at all cost. Over the days and weeks Ruth began to notice that the number of those accompanying her had gradually diminished and none now wore uniforms. Asking why, she was told they were behind Japanese lines and she was now in the hands of a guerrilla band.

So now here she sat, a woman born in Canada, never knowing a night she had not in those years, slept contented and warm, huddled on a sampan drifting down the Yangtze River in a pitch dark night, with raindrops dripping on her through a leaking grass roof.

CHAPTER 15
To be washed by the rain and combed by the wind.
Chinese Traveller's Proverb

Taking his feet off the porch bamboo railings, Chuck Ashman, still holding his beer glass, stood up to watch as a small truck drove towards him from the direction of the airfield. Stopping at the foot of the bungalow steps just long enough for Sam Sambrook to swing out of the front passenger seat, it turned about, returning the way it had come.

"Well, what's the good news?" asked Chuck as Sam came up the steps.

"Nothing you're gonna like" replied Sam tossing his hat on the porch bamboo table while handing Chuck a number of telegram messages, "Here, read these."

Then addressing a house boy who appeared from inside the bungalow, "Bring me a beer Sung." He sat down across from Ashman.

It was late morning on a hot sultry summer day, their first in China. They were at Sam's allocated home on the fringe of a large Chinese airfield not far from the city of Chengtu. After leaving Miami with the plane fully loaded with two spare crated engines, extra tyres and boxes of replacement items for the aircraft, they flew the length of the Bahamas Island chain to Santa Domingo in the Dominican Republic for a refuelling stopover then across the Caribbean to stay the night in Caracas, Venezuela. Their next leg was on to Fortaleza in Brazil where they had to wait an extra day for a safe weather forecast before crossing the Atlantic to Dakar on the African coast. The next two days were spent crossing this vast continent, journeying first to Lagos then Djibouti. Leaving Africa they flew along the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula to Karachi, India, then on to Calcutta. Their final two legs were over the lower Himalaya Mountains to Kunming in China's Yunnan Province, then a short hop north to Chengtu. Half way around the world in nine days.

"Are they kidding?" remarked Chuck angrily looking up from the telegrams, waving one at Sam. "I didn't come out to the land of Charlie Chan to stay. This was supposed to be a delivery!"

"Read on" prompted Sam, "You haven't got to the good bit yet."

"A year! A year!" yelled Chuck.

"Ya. Well Clover's in a fix. You're the best bet they got" pointed out Sambrook picking up one of the telegrams. "When Saunderson threw a monkey wrench in the works by not making the flight, it really screwed everything up. He was supposta been the pilot for that ship you brought… he had the contract. If everything went OK these people here would buy another three DCs from Douglas. Now with no experienced pilot to show them what a good ship it is the whole deal might fall through."

"Damn it Sam, you're putting me on the spot again and I ain't buying."

"Well I've just been talking to the bosses up at the field and they wanta know by lunch whether or not they go a pilot." Sam stopped to take a swallow of his beer then continued, "You'd be doing Dud a big favour."

Chuck looked at Sam but he was studying the telegram he held.

"I don't wanta give up the Douglas job Sam and I left things half done and promises made. My car's being repaired, I told my sister I'd be visiting and I promised my landlady I would drive her up to her brothers in Frisco next month." Chuck pushed the telegrams aside.

"Hell Chuck" began Sam leaning across the table "None of that's a problem. Read the telegrams again. Douglas ain't letting you go, just lending you for a year. You still got your job with Clover. As for the other stuff we'll wire Dud and he can square it. Besides you don't know how much these guys are paying for top notch pilots."

Sam pushed a slip of paper across to Ashman to read.

"Holy mackerel Sam! This is almost three times what Douglas is paying me" blurted out Chuck.

"So, we can go up and see those galoots at the office and tell them they're getting' themselves one sure-fire crackerjack pilot."

"Guess so" replied Chuck reaching for his beer.

"Hot dog" replied Sam happily, "We'll make a rip-snortin' team."

"Ya know Sambrook" began Chuck leaning back in his chair, "I got this feeling coming over me that maybe it was you that took Sanderson out on the town and slipped him a Mickey Finn."

No reply, Sam just smiled.

--oOo--

Mark Ellison realised he had made the wrong decision on rounding a bend in the road he was climbing and seeing it not descend as he had hoped but extend for another good mile along a ridge line before dropping down into the next valley. This was the third day of his journey towards Chungking and instead of finding an Inn to shelter the night at in the last village in the previous valley he believed he had enough daylight to make the next. Now he would be seeking accommodation in the dark.

The road he was travelling was not as he believed it would be in regarding traffic. The first day he had none as company, except local peasants on local treks. But on the second day his road joined another that teamed with refugees, some wheeled traffic but mostly afoot. Like the young family he was now about to overtake.

The father in front bent under a shoulder pole with two heap-filled baskets, all their family possessions, no doubt. Behind him was the mother, a bundle on her back a baby strapped to her chest. Behind her walked a young child. At this point in the road it narrowed and became a slight incline with, to their right, a rock wall of twenty feet or more, while to the left the road was a sheer drop into a deep canyon. Mark, noting this, was about to move to the rock wall side of the road where there was less change of a stumble into the abyss but was forestalled by a rare lorry overtaking him.

Not military, it was stacked high with baskets, bundles and people sat atop. Also, the sides were bulging out with more baskets and cages containing chickens, ducks and small pigs. As the vehicle began climbing the incline it slowed and as the driver struggled to find a lower gear it stopped but only for a moment. With a drizzly rain falling, the rear tyres found no grip and although spinning the lorry's rear began to drift towards the cliff edge. There the mother had just turned about extending her hand encouraging the following youngster to hurry. At that point the side baggage of the lorry at first nudged her to stumble and then brushed her towards the cliff.

Mark, walking behind, caught a glimpse of the father in answer to his wife's screams, dropping his shoulder pole and rushing to her aid before his vision was obscured by the vehicle's bulk. A moment later the wheels found purchase and moved on. Of the mother and father there was no trace only the father's baskets and pole lying in the road.

This happened so fleetingly quick, Mark had no time to react and too far to help. Ahead of him the child was stood staring at the road where its parents last were. Without missing a step Mark lifted the child into the air "Let me be your legs little one" he said placing the child on his shoulders so the sword handle secured it from falling backwards. For a long time the child remained silent then the word came that he was expecting "Mother!"

"She is ahead. We will see her soon" lied Ellison with the words he had been rehearsing in his mind.

This exchange was repeated three more times before a village was reached and an Inn found. To be expected it was crowded but Mark found space where he and the young girl could sit and eat their bowls of noodles. He discovered her sex on taking her off his shoulders, losing her conical hat revealing her neck-length hair. Of her age he could only guess, two and a half, perhaps three. All the time they were eating the girl would pause and search the room. Mark couldn't find the courage to somehow make her understand that both her mother and father were gone for ever.

Finishing their meal Mark sought out the innkeeper who for the offer of ten cents found a place of warmth for them both on the Inn's heated kang. In the morning, with only one disturbance when the child had to use the Inn's outside toilet, the pathway of which was illuminated for them by nocturnal fireflies, Mark awoke to find their clothes had dried and the day was fine for walking. After a breakfast of watery vegetable soup and wheat cakes, they set off with Mark staving off the girl's questions of her mother's whereabouts with gestures and promises of, up ahead.

Three times he had to run with her as she was sure she could see one or both of her parents ahead. Once having to put her down so she could run to a woman with a bundle on her back. For Mark the incident was soul-wrenching as she, disappointed, stood crying in the road. Lifting her back onto his shoulders he vowed somehow to put an end to the child's anguish. The next day when sure she was dozing he left the road by a side path gambling that it would take him to another road that also led more or less towards Chungking. Another two factors that influenced his line of thinking on making this change of routes was the refugee congestion and their overwhelming of the Inns and the Inns themselves. The one of the night before was more an opium den than a traveller refuge with the sweet sickly smoke fumes drifting to all corners of the main room.

Once awoken, Mark, in order to distract the girl from questioning their reason for leaving the main road, began to teach her songs he had learned from his soldier comrades. At first folk songs, like Swallow Over the Loft and The Fall of the Lotus but then exhausting them, soldier songs. The meaning of which she wouldn't have realised but sang them just as lustily as he.

For Mark, fortune favoured the bold, for after four hours they crested a range of hills to find in the valley on the other side a road that appeared very likely to be winding south-westwards towards Chungking which proved correct with light traffic free of dispirited refugees, rogue soldiers and escaping city riff-raff. The Inns were also a lofty improvement. Mostly well-kept and acceptable to stay in while overall the innkeepers played the host to guest role from adequate to delightful.

And so they trudged on, Mark and his child companion, Nen-yun, Tender Mist which was the only name she could give him. Of her family name, her memory appeared too young to have assimilated or understood the meaning of one. Their progress in the hotness of a midsummer was one of leisure and haste. Leisure if Tender Mist insisted on walking, haste if Mark had her on his shoulders but not that hastily that they couldn't enjoy the countryside and sing their songs together. To escape the worst of the day's mid-heat they would seek out shade in wayside huts or roadside family temples or a streamside grove of trees. At one of these stream sides with a bar of soap he had bought in a village market he gave her a bath. Something she didn't find to her liking, rewarding Mark's efforts by pouting for the rest of the day. But it was worth it to Mark. His results had transformed her hair and face into angelic bloom.

When Mark had first set out, his all-embracing aim was to reach Chungking quickly but since taking on the burden of godfather, for that is what Tender Mist had chosen to call him; his pace had become determined by whatever she permitted. If she found pleasure in playing by the roadside he would tarry. If stopped to watch a farm animal at its work in a near field, he would loiter with her. And if wearying she would come to him with outstretched arms indicating she now wished to ride Mark's shoulders where she would sing or sleep.

Over the weeks, averaging perhaps fifteen miles a day, Mark was gradually nearing his goal. Helped immensely by, once obtaining a lift on a vintage bus that plied a route from Shunking to Shuting and back, a saving on their legs of fifty miles. With all seats removed, for more passenger space, Tender Mist stood looking out all the way rejoicing the breeze on her face and the exhilaration of the vehicle's speed with little hops up and down and joyful cries.

With Chungking now only a few days away Mark was faced with serious consideration as to the future fate of Tender Mist. To leave her in the care of a refugee organisation was out of the question. No matter how well supervised the chance of being abducted into child slavery then prostitution was too great. Despite his eagerness to rejoin Pointed Sword Mark had no intention of letting Tender Mist go until he was satisfied her safe future was assured.

It wasn't until very near Chungking that Mark was freed of his dilemma. On enquiring of a Taoist Priest at a roadside temple if he knew of an establishment where orphaned children were well sheltered he directed him to a side road where after a quarter of a mile they came to a walled estate with a large sign at the main gate in both Chinese and English, New Life Movement Orphanage.

Explaining to the gatekeeper why he had come Mark was told to take a side path through the grounds to the rear of the building, as an important visitor was expected shortly and he must not be seen at the front. Moving through these well-attended grounds, Mark came across sports fields, a tennis court and a beaten earth assembly area. At the front of the building they could see children of all ages in neat blue uniforms standing, each holding a Chinese flag, waiting.

With Tender Mist on his shoulders, Mark searched for a rear entrance but could find no doorway leading into the extensive grey tile roofed structure with sweeping horned eaves. While prolonged cheering rang out from the front of the building Ellison taking Tender Mist from his shoulders, led her by her hand through a low archway into a large courtyard. As the cheering from the front abated, through a similar archway at the opposite side of the courtyard an official party emerged. In the lead, a woman seeing Mark and the girl, stopped, whereupon all stopped; the woman next to her, a European, who had been speaking ended her dialogue and also looked, as all the party now were, towards the man and girl.

Turning to a white man in Western dress, the woman spoke a few words which set him ambling in Mark's direction. Dark, heavy set, aged mid forties, he had his coat flung open showing he was armed, one pistol on his hip, another in a shoulder holster.

"Who you buddy?" he asked giving Mark the once over. His accent American.

"Lin, Corporal, Chinese Army" answered Ellison in simple truth.

"Sure you are" replied the man, "And I'm Mickey Mouse. You're gonna have to spill more than that. My name's Cohan, I ride shotgun for Madam Chiang Kia-shek across there."

Cohan paused to nod his head behind him, "And she wants to know the dope about you and the kid."

"The girl's an orphan. I'm trying to find a decent home for her. Then I can get on and find my Brigade. I was wounded and left behind. I'm told they are here in Chungking somewhere" explained Ellison. But Cohan wanted more.

"Ok! But what's with this Lin stuff. You talk English like an Englishman. Don't ya got a proper name?"

"Ellison" admitted Mark holding out his passport.

Cohan took it, opened it up for a quick inspection, then closing it, tapped it on a knuckle. "Ok, I'll just see the boss. Be back in a jiff."

In less than a minute Madam Chiang was striding across the courtyard. Dressed in a sea-green gown with a slit one side to the knee, her shining dark hair was caught in a knot at her neck, while beautiful satin ebony eyes, from a pale smooth face free of makeup, concentrated on the child.

"What have we here?" she smiled reaching to pick up Tender Mist who snatched off her conicaled hat on being balanced on one of the woman's hips. "Another shiny pearl to add to our collection." This she spoke in English then changing to Chinese, "And what is your name precious one?"

The child looked to Mark who nodded before she replied

"And what is your other name?" she was asked.

"Lin. Madam Chiang" spoke up Ellison quickly bowing his head.

"Yes. The same as yours I understand" her surmise required a reply.

"She is a casualty of the road Madam Chiang. She knows no other. I have given her the one I use because to her now I am her Godfather" explained Mark.

"Most commendable" complimented China's first lady, "And who bestowed the name on you?"

Madam Chiang had reverted again to English, faultless, with an unblemished southern American accent. Ellison related to her of his relationship with the Lin family and their fate in Nanking being interrupted at one stage by Madam Chiang in a sorrowful voice. "They were friends, like I and the Generalissimo Methodists. They were dinner guests, often" and then, "How did they die?"

Mark caught off balance for a moment lied. "Shot. I buried them in their front garden."

"So now you fight for China?" stated Madam Chiang.

"Yes" Madam Chiang "And will continue to do so as soon as I rejoin my Brigade, Pointed Sword."

"And where are they?" Mark was asked.

"I have been informed, Madam Chiang that they are here in Chungking but I know not where."

Turning to one of her party, a general, she asked "General Tsung, where have we disposed of Pointed Sword Brigade?"

"South of the river Madam" replied the General, "Awaiting reinforcements. At present they have no commander."

"Why no commander?" asked Madam Chiang puzzled.

"Because it is a Fukien Brigade and Governor Ch'en I insists that the new commander must be a Fukien officer."

"Well there you are Corporal Lin" affirmed Madam Chiang, "Your Brigade is here but without a commander."

"Madam Chiang" began Ellison lowering his head in an exaggerated bow, "There is an officer of Fukien birth who would be more than capable of taking command of Pointed Sword."

"And who would that be?" asked Madam Chiang.

"Please don't prejudge his qualities Madam Chiang" excused Mark, "Just because they come from a humble Corporal. He is Lieutenant Colonel Pai. He was convalescing from wounds at the Convent of Saint Dennis in Hupeh Province. But he may be with General Li now."

"Yes. Well we shall see" was Madam Chiang's only comment before changing the subject. "But come we are neglecting our latest arrival."

Then, turning to the European woman of perhaps fifty with greying red hair, "Mirran, take charge of Corporal Lin and his Goddaughter will you?"

Then to Mark, "Goodbye Corporal Lin and good luck" leaving him saluting with Cohan slapping his passport into his chest.

"Mister Ellison you and your Goddaughter come with me and I'm not having any of your Corporal Lin nonsense" stated the women in English but with an American accent.

But he never heard her. Too intent on what Madam Chiang and Cohan were saying.

"Mister Cohan this Colonel Pai…."

"I'll get one of my boys after him right away!"

CHAPTER 16
It's anger that causes men most trouble and pride that keeps him in it.
Chinese Proverb

Holding his hat and small suitcase in one hand Mark Ellison turned to wave to the four figures standing on the edge of the river bed sand. As Still Willows, Stands Erect, Loyal Monkey and Bright Joy waved back, he along with the other eleven passengers, responding to the co-pilot's beckon, boarded the airplane. Mark was flying to Hong Kong.

It was early January 1940 and Mark Ellison had just spent the last six months with Pointed Sword in Chungking but not engaged in routine military tedium as he had expected.

At the orphanage, parting with Tender Mist had not been as short and straight forward as he had envisaged. They were first taken to Mirran Harrington's office where both had all their particulars taken down, not a whole lot from Tender Mist but Mirran's grilling of Ellison was formidable. Everything was noted, from Mark's description of the parents' death to his next of kin. Mirran was highlighting his role of Godfather in spades. Mark didn't protest, rather wanting the link with Tender Mist to remain, asking if he could visit her should the occasion present itself, told yes, for as long as she remains at the orphanage. When he asked under what circumstances she would leave, told this would be at the age of fifteen or on being adopted, it was Mark's turn to invoke the Godfather clause. With fingers tapping the desk he made it clear her adoption would be on his say so only but stopped in mid sentence by the woman putting her finger to her lips. But did so smiling as her eyes indicated the young girl. It was then that Ellison realised Tender Mist had taken on a significance of more importance in his life than he had been conscious of. Even more so when they parted. With her being led away down a hallway as he watched her go all the time looking over her shoulder, puzzled no doubt as to why he wasn't following.

Mark left the orphanage assured in mind that Tender Mist was in good hands. Madam Chiang Kai-shek was the guiding force behind the New Life Movement and a patron of the orphanage which was run by Methodist Missionaries of the same religion as Madam Chiang Kai-shek herself.

Unaccustomed to the absence of her weight on his shoulder, he would, as he walked and though, involuntarily turn to look behind. Only accepting she would no longer be with him to laugh, sing and sleep at his side long after his tears had dried.

It wasn't until late in the day that he rejoined Pointed Sword. To do so he had to cross the Yangtze River on a ferry boat, with the river raging at it's fullest from the summer thaw of the Himalaya snows. A mile's walk brought him to an area housed by shedding with corrugated tin sides and roofs. Also long sun baked mud brick buildings with bamboo thatching as roofing.

The brigade was drawn up on their formation ground for the evening drill of lowering the flag. On completion the men were fallen out and catching sight of Mark flocked around him shouting boisterous greetings. Later in a 4 Company hut with a waxed paper lantern above them Mark heard the sad details of Pointed Sword's near complete destruction. The Japanese use of gas, mustard and lewisite, delivered by artillery shells or released from cylinders, was the overwhelming cause. Driven from their defensive positions because they had no means of protecting themselves against it, they were slain in their hundreds from its effects and by Japanese prearranged artillery and machine-gun fire. What remained was marched off to Chungking to await reforming or disbandment.

On Governor Ch'en I's strict instructions disbandment was ruled out but the recruitment of replacement numbers was proving a difficulty. The governor insisted the ranks be filled with Fukien volunteers to maintain its identity and promised to see this was done. A promise greatly depended upon by those of the brigade remaining, whose numbers were less than a thousand. Mark found the evidence of this within his own company and platoon.

The Company's platoons numbered only eight or ten soldiers in each, 2 Platoon had nine. Mark was thankful to see that among them were Stands Erect, Loyal Monkey, Blind Ox and Little Feet. Also survived, were Still Willows, Bright Joy, Warrant Officer Ch'e and Slow Boil but had lost half his cook boys and coolies. Lieutenant Yuan, now Captain, was the second in command of the 1st Battalion, while the brigade was under the caretaker command of a Lieutenant Colonel. Training, Mark was told, had been more-or-less suspended. Concentrating mainly of keeping the integrity of the brigade intact. An understandable measure as the brigade was on constant standby call to assist in fighting fires and rescue work because of Japanese bombing of the city. A regular occurrence these summer days as the skies were clear. Unlike the fall and winter when mist, fog and cloud provided a protective shroud.

For the following two weeks Mark adopted himself to the routine of the Brigade. Then one day the news was given that the next morning they would parade to receive their new Brigade Commander. Drawn up in their battalion formations the brigade was called to attention as two black American Chevrolet cars halted on the road bordering the hardened earth parade ground by Warrant Officer Ch'e. All the officers were stood in one row beside the road.

As the door of the first car was opened Governor Ch'en I stepped out onto the road, while from the other door emerged Colonel Pai. As a spontaneous cheer erupted from the ranks, Warrant Officer Ch'e brought it to a trailing end with a gruff command. Mark Ellison didn't cheer expelling a relieved sigh instead.

Pai's arrival put the brigade on a more active footing; there was much that needed to be addressed. Governor Ch'en I assured Colonel Pai that replacement numbers would be coming but due to casualties the brigade was woefully short of NCO's and Officers. To remedy this the ranks were scoured for suitable candidates resulting in sixteen of its junior members being selected as officer cadets, three of those Stands Erect, Loyal Monkey and Mark Ellison. Colonel Pai interviewed each candidate alone in his office but in Mark's case there were no searching questions just a frank description of events involving him after Mark had left. Of how only a few days following his departure he was summoned to the gate to be confronted by a fuming General Li being refused entry by a young nun. Within a week he found himself serving on the General's staff but a month later he was informed he was needed elsewhere and being driven off in one of Madam Chiang Kai-shek's private cars. Mark had the impression that Pai somehow had learned of his meeting with Li and Madam Chiang Kai-shek and in a roundabout way was thanking him without loss of face.

And so for the next three months Mark, Stands Erect and Loyal Monkey persevered the ordeals of an officer cadet's selection course. It was not easy, the discipline harsh but acceptable, the marches hard but not a struggle, the field exercises and battle drills were out-dated but were remoulded to a satisfactory degree by the students. Stands Erect was a born commander but found the classroom instruction hard to follow. However in the evening Mark and Loyal Monkey would go over it all with him until Chih understood the lesson's aim. To Mark, Loyal Monkey gave him an impression of having done this all before. But then his easy going approach was not something new.

As Mark took his seat in the aircraft, a Russian Gorky Ps 89 twelve-seater, twin engine passenger plane, he reflected on his last few months. Graduated a Second Lieutenant he very soon, as were the others of his course, promoted to full lieutenant, Mark's appointment, acting 4 Company Commander and as promised by Governor Ch'en I the reinforcements were arriving. Making the long trek from Fukein Province across half of Free China. Mark had gained permission to go to Hong Kong by explaining to Colonel Pai that, now, as a committed officer of the Chinese Army he had to finalise his life, end his employment with Livingston's and cable his mother and father to warn them he would very likely be out of touch for some time.

The day before he had spent visiting Tender Mist in the company of Still Willows, who had done so twice before with him. Delighted in what Mark had done for the child she had insisted in meeting her and was now enraptured.

As the co-pilot indicated to everyone to fasten their seatbelts before joining the pilot in the front cabin, Mark attempted for a final time to wave to his four friends but unsure of being seen. The aircraft was taking off from Chungking's recognised winter airport, the sandy river bottom of the Yangtze where it passes through the heart of the city. With the dramatic dropping of river level the hard packed sand of the river bed made a perfect runway for aircraft take-offs and landings. Its use was also considered safe from Japanese bombing as the winter's cloud and mist had become a protective feature of Chungking for this time of year.

As the two Russian crew members piloted their aircraft down the broad river gorge then up to altitude above the hills of Szechwan Province and south-eastwards on their first leg to Hong Kong, Mark checked the time on his watch. It was almost nine in the morning, in five hours he will be landing at his destination, but he didn't.

Four hours later he was struggling through a muddy rice field with a dead co-pilot on his back.

Attacked by a Japanese fighter aircraft its bullets smashed into the forward part of the aircraft, wounding three passengers and killing the co-pilot. The pilot, although wounded, put his plane into a dive that took them into a cloud bank. From there, losing his pursuer, with one engine now gone he headed for the ground and a crash landing.

With mud-like soup splashing in through shattered windows the plane, sliding in a half circle came to a halt. Mark un-bracing himself from the seat in front, released his seatbelt and pulled himself along the isle to the pilot's cabin. A wing had come off leaving the aircraft half resting on one side. The pilot an arm all bloodied gestured to Mark to see to the co-pilot but it was quite plain to him that he was beyond aid.

An hour later everyone who could walk were making their way towards a nearby town, leaving a Chinese Army detachment that had arrived to deal with the wounded and dead.

Most of the passengers were businessmen and arms salesmen, who, suffering varied degrees of shock settled themselves in a hotel. Ordering a beer from the tiny bar Mark sat himself on the hotel veranda to take stock of his situation and what his options now were for getting on to Hong Kong. Half way through his beer the outlook of continuing on in any other way except by foot, looked hopeless. Here he sat, he and his newly bought travel clothes caked in mud, one shoe lost in the paddy field and his small suitcase with his spare shirt and shaving things there also. Taking another swallow from the beer bottle his gaze came to rest on a shop across the street.

For several minutes Ellison studied the shop while over and over in his mind he repeated to himself a phrase he thought he had long forgot. Finishing the beer he left the veranda to walk across the street, parting a bamboo curtain in the door to enter the shop. Behind a counter an aged gentleman raised, his hands hidden in the opposite sleeves of the decorative gown he wore. In the counter and on shelves and in glass cabinets behind him were numerous jade carvings.

"Has the young foreign gentleman come to purchase from my humble shop?" Mark was asked, with a bow of the shopkeeper's head.

"A thousand pardons, but no" replied Mark also bowing. "I have come in search of my old uncle who lives above the shop."

--oOo--

Stepping off the sampan onto a floating landing Mark paused to hand the sampan owner a few dollars for his service. Then removing his fibre conical hat he also handed this to him as a gift. Leaving the landing he took a flight of stone steps to the shore-side street above, Mark was back in Hong Kong.

At the jade shop, after explaining his predicament and destination, all worries were removed. With his clothes taken from him he was able to wash and bathed then fed and given a bed for the night. The next morning his clothes were returned but not to wear. Instead he was dressed in a black tunic and trousers and peasant's conical hat. Then after a most grateful farewell he was off riding as a passenger on a bicycle seated behind the man pedalling. In relays he travelled from village to village, town to town, changing bicycles and those that pedalled it every five or ten miles. As night approached he was handed off to a family on a sampan that drifted down a river for two days where Ellison had nothing to do but sleep and eat. On reaching the sea he was taken aboard a junk but kept out of sight because of Japanese patrols, both sea and air. In the early hours of the morning of the fourth day after leaving the jade shop, the junk, inconspicuous among so many others, meandered into Hong Kong bay where Ellison hailed a passing sampan.

Mark had come ashore a few hundred yards from the Star Ferry landing. It was four in the morning, winter dark but half an hour later he was knocking on the door of his old bungalow hoping that Kit Sewell was still occupying it. After a long pause the door was opened, not by Kit but by someone he was even more pleased to see; Wang the house boy.

"Wang. Wonderful" exclaimed Ellison clasping the astonished man by his shoulders. "Is Mister Sewell in but more important, is the trunk I left still here?"

"I'm over here" came a voice as a hall light was switched on. It was Kit, standing in pyjamas, "And your trunk, my Fanny. Where the hell have you been?"

Soaking in a bath for over an hour, an early breakfast was taken where Mark spun Kit a story he had thought up of how on seeing the distress of China's orphaned children he was now dedicated to their care. Prompting Kit to do no more than shake his head with a warning "You bloody saint. You'll end up nailed to a cross."

For his part, he explained that because of the war with Germany that had broken out the previous September this was now affecting Livingston's. He was the only occupier of the bungalow. The other two young employees had enlisted at the outbreak and even he was waiting to hear the results of his application for RAF aircrew before going off himself.

Returning to his room in robe and bare feet Wang didn't hear Mark enter the room as he stared down at the pictures Ellison had unthinkingly tossed there before going to breakfast.

"I didn't mean for anyone in the Colony to see those."

Wang, showing neither embarrassment nor apologising picked up one of the photos. "You are a soldier of China?" It was a picture of Mark, Stands Erect and Loyal Monkey taken the day they had completed their Cadet Officer's graduation.

"Yes" admitted Mark "But I prefer that others do not know of it."

"My son is a soldier too" said Wang, replacing the photo. "He joined a Cantonese Regiment. I have not heard from him for a year."

"The Cantonese Divisions fought with bravery south of Hankow last year" replied Mark, adding "It is hard to communicate when at the front."

Accompanying Kit to Livingston's office Mark presented himself to Pearson in his office, the man who had sent him off to Hankow over two years earlier. He did try very hard to persuade Mark not to resign pointing out his prospects were extremely good now so many young men were leaving. But Ellison pleaded there was a greater need of him in Free China.

Promising Kit he would join him for lunch then spending ten minutes chatting with Jack Saunders at the reception desk Mark used up the rest of the morning shopping for requested items for those in Chungking and sending a long cable gram to his mother and father. Then, honouring his lunch arrangement with Kit, he made his way to the Gloucester Hotel where he found Kit already there, seated with his father and three other Livingston employees in the bar having a pre-lunch drink.

Paying his respects to Alex Sewell before sitting beside his son Mark ordered a drink and lit up a cigarette.

"Douglas Pearson tells me you resigned from the firm this morning" observed Sewell as Mark accepted the drink a waiter was offering him on a silver tray.

"Yes! That's right, Sir" confirmed Ellison. "It was one of the reasons for returning.

"You're taking up missionary work instead?" "Is that right?" asked Sewell, his voice betraying a disapproving tone.

"Well not quite, Sir. An orphanage. I'm looking after orphans" corrected Mark.

"That's most admirable but there is a war on. Have you considered joining up? Kit here is soon off to the Air Force" pointed out the older man.

"There's a war in China too" replied Mark ignoring the grinning retort from one of the firm's employees.

"Warlords playing with airplanes."

At this point all conversation ceased as Rosina Sewell approached to join them. Dressed in a lime green skirted suit and even more bewitching than Mark had remembered. She was married now, so Kit had told him, to an officer in the Navy.

"I thought we had lost you" said Rosina taking a chair beside Mark as all re-seated after welcoming her to the table.

"Almost" replied Mark, "But I hear congratulations are in order, you're married now."

"Well, sort of" she replied in a nullified tone. "When the war was announced John skipped aboard his destroyer and sailed away. Haven't seen him since September."

Distracted by the conversations on the other side of the table Mark's attention was not drawn to her again until she spoke his name.

She had taken a cigarette from her cigarette case and was holding it as a request for him to provide a light. Still engrossed in what was being said on the other side of the table, without looking, he did what he had done hundreds of times in the last two years. For such requests he extended his left hand for Rosina to take her light from his own lighted cigarette.

At first, slightly balking, she then leaned forward to accept the glowing ash, while observing his missing finger.

"What do you do now?" she asked, cocking her head back to expel smoke upwards.

"Orphanage. I look after orphans" informed Mark, briskly.

"And your missing finger? Did one of your little charges bite it off?" asked Rosina mischievously.

"Hammer" lied Mark, "Never could aim one right."

"So now" began the young woman aware over these few past minutes that this mature, self-assured man beside her, was in no way comparable to the fumbling youth, brimming with good intentions, she had once known. "Here you are, back, two years later and ten years older."

"Really?" The woman made no reply as his eyes held hers for a moment then looked away.

"Well Mark" Rosina asked after a sip from her Martini glass. "What now for you? Surely not a life of servitude to unwanted children?"

Mark did not reply to that instead she noticed he had gone tense, his eyes cold and staring. Following his gaze she recognised Martin Winbolt approaching their table with his wife on his arm.

The first to rise as he neared was Ellison but not out of respect.

"Ah! Martin. Agnes. Come join us. And look who's turned up?" called Alex Sewell pointing to Ellison.

"Oh my goodness its young Ellison!" exclaimed Winbolt in false amazement, "We had given you up."

He had extended his hand towards Ellison but it hung in the air.

"Your woman. Is she safe?" asked Mark, his voice heavy with menace.

"The Lin's aren't safe. Most are dead."

"Look Ellison" began Winbolt retrieving his hand and angrily sweeping it in front of himself. If you're referring that Nanking nonsense well all that's water under the bridge now!"

"If you ever" began Mark, whose eyes had not left Winbolt's for one second, with a voice icy in meaning, "enter free China and come within my reach again. I'll kill you!"

For Mark at this moment there were only two people in the room; he and this creature, but there were others. The first to react the wife on Winbolt's arm.

"Martin! Martin! What woman? What does he mean, kill you?"

Then Alex Sewell. "Ellison! That kind of remark in this company is deplorable. You had best apologise to Martin, now!"

Then Kit.

"Steady on old man. That's a bit near the bone."

Then Alex Sewell again.

"Ellison!"

Stubbing her cigarette out Rosina rose to take Ellison's arm whose eyes were still locked on Winbolt's. "Come Mark! Let's you and I go for a drive."

With her arm securing his she half dragged, half guided Mark out of the bar and through the foyer to the street. "My car's around the corner."

"Bastard! Bastard! Cursed Mark as Rosina swung her car into the street traffic.

"Would you really kill Martin given the chance?" she asked.

Mark didn't answer her question; instead asked "Where are you driving to?"

"Nowhere" she replied, "I'm just giving you the chance to cool down."

"Take me to the Macao Ferry" he ordered.

"Macao?" she questioned, "Why?"

"Got to see someone. For a friend" he answered.

At the ferry Mark made to get out.

"How long are you planning to be away?" she asked.

"Should be just a day. Perhaps I'll be back on the midnight ferry" he replied.

"Well give me a minute to park the car" Rosina announced, "I'll come with you."

"There's no need for that" replied Mark.

"Yes there is!" protested Rosina.

"You could do with just a little bit more watching at the moment."

"You can't leave the car unattended" stated Mark looking around. Then pointing to a side street opposite the ferry entrance, "Park it over there. I'll be with you in a minute."

Hailing in Chinese a young street urchin loitering against some bails awaiting shipping the youth hurried to him.

"What's your name son of the street?"

"Drifting Leaf" he replied.

"Well Drifting Leaf how would you like to earn a dollar?" asked Mark.

"Well come with me" he ordered after the boy shouted yes.

"Give me your car keys" he said to Rosina.

"Why?" she asked.

"So our little friend here, Drifting Leaf, can make sure you still have your tyres when we get back."

"Here's your dollar young Drifting Leaf and the keys to lock the doors. If you are still here tomorrow I'll give you another dollar so don't go driving the car onto the Governor's lawn."

"What's he laughing at?" asked Rosina as they left for the ferry with Drifting Leaf rolling on the front seat in mirth.

--oOo--

The voyage from Hong Kong to the Portuguese Colony of Macao was a westward journey of over fifty miles. A straight run but avoiding coastal islands at its start and finish. At the ferry landing they took a taxi to an address Mark read out from a scrap of paper he produced from his wallet. The street they were taken to was neither commercial nor swank. In fact to Rosina it had all the hallmarks of a city's red light district. An assumption for her confirmed when the three-storey building Mark led her into appeared to be a gambling den.

"Ellison! Where the hell are you taking us?" questioned his companion. Surveying the interior as they halted at the top of a broad staircase that led down into a lower floor where the main function of the building was obvious to see, gambling yes, but this was a Fan Tan house.

As Mark hailed then spoke to a white-coated waiter Rosina observed the scene before her. On the floor just below her was an enclosed area where a man was flicking at an assortment of small objects with a thin bamboo stick. At the wooden railings surrounding this area men and women stood or were sat watching. Above them the building was hollow except each of the three floors were stout wooden balconies that ranged around the room's four walls enclosed by low railings behind which were tables where couples and party groups were dining.

"We may be waiting for a time. So while we wait we'll have dinner." Rosina, accustomed to being asked, not told none-the-less let Mark take her arm to follow the waiter down the steps and across the lower floor to a staircase where at the second balcony level they were shown to a table by the railing with a clear view down to the game floor below.

Briefly speaking in Chinese to the waiter Ellison turned to the woman, "Shall I order for you?"

"Something to drink? A cocktail, and oh! Nothing heavy. A Lemon Sole I think" she decided.

Without replying Mark turned back to the waiter again addressing him in Chinese.

Soon a steaming pot and cups without handles were brought to them.

"What's this?" asked Rosina.

"Flower tea" replied Mark pouring for both, "I'm sure you'll like it."

"But where's my cocktail?" questioned Rosina.

"Coming" was Ellison's abrupt reply.

Some minutes later a bottle was placed on the table, contents yellow. "Shall I pour?" offered Mark, bottle poised over her drink cup.

"What is it?" she asked.

"Your cocktail. It's a wine from the rice and maize vineyards of Shantung Province" explained Mark without a hint of a smile.

"It'll do" declared Rosina after taking a couple of sips. Having now come to realise Mark was playing a game with her apparently called 'take what the house has to offer or lump it'.

A fact confirmed when the meal arrived, all in bowls, with most of the contents swimming in coloured sauces.

"No Sole then?" she observed innocently.

"Sorry Ros. The Sole's off" replied Mark plucking items of meat and vegetables from the bowls with his chopsticks.

"Damn you Ellison" thought Rosina but instead said, "Oh Mark do be a dear and ask the waiter if they have such a thing as a fork on the premises?"

"You wouldn't know the rules of this game would you?" asked Rosina having finished their meal and were now occupied with the wine.

"It's quite easy really" began Mark, "You see the square marked out on the floor." Below was a black-lined six foot square, "Each side is numbered one to four. The man in the black gown is the banker. To start a game he puts two handfuls of buttons, coins, dried beans, or beads in the centre of the square then puts a bowl over them. When all bets are placed the bowl is removed by the croupier or as he's called Tan Kun. Then he begins separating the buttons in groups of four with a thin bamboo stick. Whatever number of buttons remains from one to four that number is the winner."

"How would I bet?" asked Rosina.

"You use the baskets" all through their meal shallow baskets on string pulleys had been in motion up and down beside their table. "You take off a wooden cup as it passes, write down your table number and the side of the square you've chosen to bet on, put it and your money in the cup and place it on the next passing basket."

Before Rosina could ask more a waiter approached and began whispering in Mark's ear.

"Ros! I'll have to leave you for a few minutes. I'll have another bottle of wine brought" he announced before following the waiter towards the stairs.

The blond merely glanced his way nodding, more intent on studying the game.

Led from the main hall Ellison was taken along a corridor where a burley Chinese in western dress stood beside a door. On seeing the waiter with Mark in tow, he knocked on the door then opened it, standing to one side to allow the Englishman to enter.

A young man, Chinese also in western dress, a few years older than Mark stood from his desk to come around it.

"How do you do Mister Ellison? It is Ellison?" This was spoken in perfect American English.

"Yes it is" confirmed Mark as they shook hands.

"Sit down" he invited, indicating a chair in front of the desk before moving back to his own. "I'm Howard Ching. Please call me Howard and if I may I will call you…" Ching glanced down at a slip of paper on his desk that Ellison had sent earlier "Mark."

"Yes! Fine!" agreed Mark.

"Now then Mark. Your note refers to a mutual friend.

"Teng Chung-hou" replied the Englishman.

"Loyal Monkey?" Ching began shaking his head.

Mark then reached inside his jacket and handed across the desk the photo of he, Loyal Monkey and Stands Erect. Taking it Ching studied the photo for several moments before silently indicating that the burly attendant, who had remained at the door, should leave.

"Your Loyal Monkey. Is he a good friend?" asked Ching handing the picture back.

"More than that!" replied Mark.

"You say in your note you're here to ask me a question."

Ching nodded at the paper on his desk, "Now what is that?"

"Loyal Monkey wouldn't have me write it down for some reason. Asked me just to remember it" stated Mark. "Where is Black Blaze?"

Ching looked at Ellison for several seconds then asked "You two been fighting the Japs?"

"For a couple of years" replied Mark.

"Would you give your life for him?" asked Ching.

"As he would for me" nodded Ellison.

"Let's have a drink Mark" offered Ching standing to pick up a whiskey bottle from a teak wood sideboard. "Good old Yankee Bourbon. Spent eight years there schooling and two years college. California. Loved the place."

"You ever hear of the Red Gang or Green Gang?" asked Ching, re-sitting. Both with glasses in hand.

"Green Gang. They're supposed to be Chinese gangsters but no-one I've met seems to know too much about them" answered Ellison, puzzled.

"Both gangsters" confirmed Ching. "My Grandfather was Red Gang, Loyal Monkey, that's not his real name by the way, his Grandfather was Green Gang. Red Gang was based down here in Canton, the Green Gang up in Shanghai. Both gangs used to fight each other like crazy but then they joined together and became just one big gang, the Green Gang. My father married Loyal Monkey's aunt so we are cousin."

Ching stopped to take a drink from his glass. "When I came back from the states my old man sent me to Military College. Loyal Monkey's old man did the same for him. We graduated together. He got sent to Peiping, me to Canton. Now at the time Chiang Kai-shek, he's Green Gang too, he was having trouble with university students parading all over the place demanding he declare war on Japan, take back Manchuria. They were becoming a real pain in Chiang's butt. So he told his top hatchet man, an Intelligence Colonel to put a stop to it. So this Intelligence Colonel, Black Blaze sent Loyal Monkey in to the university in Peiping to finger the ring-leader students. Well after a couple of months he had his names. But had also fallen in love with one of the students. He gave Black Blaze his list but strongly pointed out that the students weren't anti-Chiang, just loyal patriots who wanted the Japs out of China. Black Blaze wasn't interested. A few days later the students were rounded up and buried alive somewhere as an example to others, Loyal Monkey's girl with them. He went missing just after the Japs took Peiping. I thought he was dead."

"So where is Black Blaze?" asked Mark.

"Don't know" answered Ching "For Loyal Monkey's sake I probably wouldn't tell you if I knew. That Black Blaze is a tough cookie."

"So why have you told me all this?" asked Mark "Why didn't you just say no when I walked in the room?"

"Because Mark" began Ching "I don't want you going spilling the beans by mentioning his name. If he got wind that Loyal Monkey was on his tail it would be curtains for him."

"OK! Howard" replied Mark draining his glass "But what about you? Are you still in the Army?"

"Not a hope" grinned Ching tapping his chest. "Number one son. My old man wanted me out of the way somewhere safe till this Jap war blows over. Can I get ya a top up?"

--oOo--

On returning to their table Ellison found Rosina sat with a small mound of money on the table in front of her.

"You found the game to your liking?" he complimented.

"You said a few minutes. Two hours. Two bloody hours" retorted Rosina.

"Sorry Ros but it was worthwhile" apologised Ellison. "Come on. Time to catch the ferry and leave some of that for the waiter" pointing at her winnings.

On board, Rosina made a beeline for the purser. Then taking hold of Mark's arm they followed him.

"There's only one bed" pointed out Mark as the purser left them alone in the ship's top overnight cabin.

"Very observant" replied Rosina, "Get your clothes off!"

"Ros! I didn't agree to your coming because I had this in mind" admitted Ellison honestly.

"Perhaps you didn't, but I did" informed Rosina now standing before him in a slip only.

"Ros! You're married" Mark reminded her lamely.

"And who says that?" countered the cream skinned blond. "Five months John's been gone and not so much as a letter. Now are you going to take the clothes off or am I?"

Mark faced with a choice he could hardly refuse began shedding his jacket and shirt.

"Good God Mark! What happened to you?" exclaimed Ros reaching out to touch one of the deep pink scars where the mustard gas had burned him.

"Another drawback to orphanage work" Mark informed her, half-heartedly.

"China hasn't been very kind to you has it? Well let's see if I can make up the difference" whispered Rosina seductively in his ear, while forcing him backwards onto the bed.

CHAPTER 17
Once harm has been done even a fool understands it.
Homer 700BC

Rounding a rocky shoulder of the road and finding a broad grass bank just beyond, Captain Lin Kao-li turned to his Company Warrant Officer with clear instructions.

"Warrant Officer Sang take position here. As the Platoons come through tell the Platoon Commanders to rest their men for half an hour here on the bank.

"As you say, Honoured Captain" replied Blind Ox, briefly coming to attention in acknowledgement of understanding the order.

Mark, walking further on, stood at the lip of the road looking down at the river below, an almost shear drop of some thousands of feet to a high-sided gorge. It was early April 1940 and Pointed Sword was on the march to the Front.

When Ellison arrived back in Chungking he was met with astonishment by everyone. All they had heard was that his airplane was missing believed crashed. They weren't the first though. The Airline office in Hong Kong were more than bemused when he presented his return ticket from one of their aircraft which they had just learned was sitting in a rice field somewhere in Southern Kiangsi Province.

Still Willows had cried but he soon had her smiling again when he presented her with a leather wallet filled with needles. An item in desperate short supply nowadays in the villages and towns of Free China. And Mark sighed with relief when she told him that she had not informed Tender Mist of his disappearance. Stands Erect assured him he wasn't the least concerned on handing back Mark's sword from his safe keeping. He knew the tigers of hell wouldn't have prevented him from reclaiming it. There was a surprise awaiting him though, he had been promoted to Captain, as had Stands Erect and Loyal Monkey. Mark, confirmed as Company Commander of 4 Company, with Stands Erect taking command of 2 Company and Loyal Monkey appointed as Colonel Pai's Aide-de-Camp.

Over the coming months Pointed Sword readied itself for battle. Governor Ch'en I had fulfilled his promise, Fukien recruits had come, over five thousand and was so overcrowding the old area that the Brigade had to move further away from the city. Arms and uniforms were also in good supply. So much so that Mark stood each morning at the battalion flag-raising in wonder of his Company of two-hundred clean, uniformly dressed soldiers, hardly able to compare them with the vagabond legion of death-dealers that Wild Sea had commanded.

Saying goodbye to Tender-Mist was an ordeal he left until the last day. On returning from Hong Kong Mark had brought for her a music box, operated by winding. Fortunately, Mirran Harrington was able to intervene wisely. Pointing out that being orphans none of Tender Mist's new playmates had owned or even seen such an article of joy. So Mark presented it to his Goddaughter on the understanding that it was for all her friends to relish, as well as she and now had become the pride of the dormitory.

Ellison turning from his gaze into the gorge watched as his Company, Platoon by Platoon, arrived to sit or sprawl out on the grassy bank. They had been on the march now for over a week and Chungking was three-hundred miles behind them. Although, like the whole Brigade, most of his Company were new to the life of a soldier, Mark was not concerned. In the final months before leaving Chungking they had all shown a keenness to learn and with a good sprinkling of the old guard as their corporals, sergeants and warrant officers, the mix would bake well.

The Brigade was doing this march independently by Battalions, well-spaced in time and distance which allowed Major Yuan, the Battalion Commander, licence to march his Companies also independently. Four Company was for this day, bringing up the rear. All morning the road they travelled had climbed the side of a ridge of hills but now a few miles ahead a cleft in the summit could be seen that the road led into. Soon they would be walking the downhill side.

Just as Mark was about to join his Platoon officers a vehicle was seen speeding from the direction of the cleft, trailing a ribbon of dust. As the car, as the vehicle turned out to be, came in sight around the road's far corner, Mark took the caution of calling everyone near him, still standing, to attention. A correct decision, for the car, an American Cadillac was seen to be carrying high ranking officers. As Mark saluted, one of them began to shout at the driver, causing the vehicle to skid to a stop. With the driver hurrying to open the passenger door the officer was seen to be objecting to the other passenger's pleading for him to remain in the car.

As the figure unsteadily pulled himself from the car, Mark suddenly recognised who it was, the Governor of the Province they were passing through, a warlord General. Quickly giving orders that everyone should get to their feet, Ellison ran to the car, halting and saluting.

"Reporting Honoured General."

The General, short and slim with a thin moustache, eyed Ellison up and down before speaking.

"What is this? A foreigner in Chinese uniform?" The comment bordered on mockery.

"Yes Honoured General. English. But now a loyal officer of the Chinese Army" Mark gave a slight bow.

"And your soldiers English officer of China. Are they all foreigners?"

The General's movements and speech were characteristic in manner of someone who was drunk but Mark suspected a different cause noticing the dilation of his eyes and confirmed by the scent of his clothes… Opium.

"No! Honoured General. They are Pointed Sword Brigade and all Chinese. The Generalissimo's loyal soldiers" replied Mark.

"The Generalissimo!" snorted the General with a contemptuous sneer. "Come! I wish to speak to your soldiers."

The other officer, a Colonel, who had been standing to the rear of the car now spoke up protesting that the Governor was late and that they should drive on.

"Be quiet!" dismissed the Governor of the Colonel with a flick of his wrist.

As the Governor sauntered across the road, Ellison one step behind, the Company drew itself up, the officers in a row on the road, the men at attention on the grass bank.

"So these are your soldiers Englishman" observed the Governor, his tone patronising. "Are they brave? Will they die for China? Die for the Generalissimo?"

"I would not lead them if I did not think they were brave, Honoured General" replied Ellison with a sharp bow of his head.

"Yes. But will they die for China?" then pointing to two of the Company soldiers, brothers, Mark knew had spent three months walking from Kanchau their home in Central Fukien Province to reach Chungking "You two come here."

"Reporting Honoured General" they barked in unison.

"Do you love China?" asked the Governor loudly.

"Yes Honoured General" they both shouted.

"Are you prepared to die for China?" the General's voice was even louder.

"Yes Honoured General" both voices ringing out from the peaks of the hills.

Drawing his pistol the General placed the muzzle on the forehead of one of the brothers. "Are you still prepared to die for China?"

"Yes" cried both brothers.

As the pistol shot died and the brother dropped in the road everyone froze, stunned. The Governor placed his pistol at the head of the second brother.

"Are you still prepared to…?"

The General got no further. Ellison recovering from the initial shock of the first brother's murder, instinctively reaching back, drew his sword and with an upwards swing, severed the pistol hand from its limb. Sunk to his knees clutching the blood gushing stump, the General turned his head upwards to curse, only in that split second to see the sword flash of Ellison's back-handed swing that sheared his head from his shoulders which then rolled in the road's gravel.

The first to find his voice was the Colonel. "Fool! Fool!" he screamed, "You will be shot for this. Shot!"

Ellison took no notice of him kneeling by the shot brother. But Blind Ox did, unslinging his rifle he shot the Colonel dead.

Sergeant Ho Hsiao-tsu ambling up to the driver of the Governor's car, who was shaking in frozen panic, killed him with the Governor's own pistol.

Mark, who was still knelt by his dead soldier's side, hot with anger over his death, found himself listening as Blind Ox whispered in his ear, "White Thunder; we must leave this place. We will put all the bodies in the car and push it into the gorge."

"Not Soldier Jen" Ellison shook his head vigorously, "He is to be buried."

Until now the whole company had stood in dumbfounded silence at the horrifying acts on the road but that changed in an instant when Blind Ox began shouting orders. Soldier Jen was taken to the far side of the grassy bank and a grave dug, the other three bodies were placed in the car and pushed to the lip of the road. Just before it was due to be rolled over Blind Ox noticed the pistol Little Feet was holding.

"Who's pistol is that?" he asked.

"The stupid General's" replied Little Feet, smiling.

"Son of a toad" stormed Blind Ox snatching the pistol to throw it into the General's lap just as he and his Cadillac toppled off the road in its dive to the waters of the gorge below. "The General's men find that pistol and we all get shot. Son of a toad."

At the graveside after Jen had been buried and the grass turfs replaced to conceal all trace, Ellison stood with the brother silently saying prayers, one in Chinese, and the other in English. Returning to the road he found the company drawn up ready to march, the blood stains hidden with a coating of gravel and sand. Before giving the order Mark addressed his men.

"Today the Company has lost its first soldier. I cannot promise that in battle we will not lose others but I will promise that in future we will not lose a soldier in this way again."

Over the next hour Mark made a point of marching for a time with each platoon, encouraging them and their commander with his presence. Returning to the head of the column he called the surviving brother to him.

"What name did your family give you?" he asked.

"Sincere Flute, Honoured Captain" he replied.

"And your brother, what was his name?"

"Night Lute, Honoured Captain" answered the young soldier, both he and his brother still in their teens.

Mark could see the youth was suffering with the shock of the event of his brother's death but he wasn't alone, Mark too was struggling to keep his reactions under control, the shaking of his hands, the overwhelming urge to curse aloud.

"Come, Sincere Flute" offered Ellison, "Walk beside me and tell me all about Night Lute and your home."

--oOo--

Half sitting, half leaning on one wheel of his DC3 airplane, Chuck Ashman was watching Sam Sambrook wash clean an oily bearing in a bucket of gasoline. It was midday at Chengtu Airfield and both were sheltering in the shade of the aircraft's wing. There were many more aircraft on the field but no-one else about them, having sought cooler locations to work or rest.

"Well. What's the verdict doctor Sambrook? Is the patient gonna fly or not?" asked Chuck.

"Maybe, maybe not" replied Sam, tossing the bearing into a tin tray.

"Doggone it Sam. What kind of an answer is that? Is our trip this afternoon on or off?" pressed Chuck.

"Depends" replied Sambrook wiping his hands on a rag.

"Depends on what?" shot back Ashman. "Come on Sam, what's the dope?"

"Well it depends on whether or not the supply shed has another one of them." Throwing down the rag he pointed at the tray.

"What?" questioned Chuck, "The bearing's a washout?"

"Yup" replied Sam, "The little varmint needs replacing."

"Well let's you and me amble over to the shed and see" suggested Chuck raising from the wheel, "And maybe they still got a couple of bottles of pop in the icebox."

It was early summer of 1940 and Chuck was almost completing his first year in China. Whereupon, far from looking forward to returning to California, he had already signed on to stay another year. The money was the main reason. To date he had several thousand dollars sitting in a bank account in Santa Monica and another year raking in just as much, that would put him on easy street after returning to Clover. It wasn't just the money but what went with it. Like Sam, he had a bungalow for his own use, with servants and all food and board paid for. There were now another three DC3s with the company, all piloted by Americans except for two Chinese who were good enough to crew as co-pilots. The flying was plentiful but not arduous. The only real fly in the ointment was, there was a war going on. Up to now though this had not caused concern; Chungking was a regular target and Sian and Lanchau had suffered raids but to date Chengtu was being ignored.

Walking back from the hangar area where Sam was able to collect a spare bearing and both a cool drink, on hearing the sound of aircraft engines approaching the field the two paused to look up. Three single-engine airplanes in a loose 'V' formation were seen on a course towards them from the north east.

"They don't look like them Russian pursuit guys we seen up at Lanchau" commented Ashman.

"Don't sound like em either" agreed Sam, both men shading their eyes with their hands.

As they watched two broke from their formation and dove for the airfield. Expecting them to level out for an approach landing Sam and Chuck lowered their hands to resume walking but soon stopped again when the roar of the aircrafts' engines increased in noise. Then, one following the other heeling over on a wing tip turn just a few hundred feet above their heads to arc around the airfield back in the direction they had come.

"Holy smoke! They're Japs!" shouted Sam unnecessarily for Chuck had also recognised the red sun on their wings.

"Come on. Let's get to the ship" cried Ashman. They were in the middle of a flat runway with nowhere to take cover. The only choice they had was to run for their plane and take shelter there. Once under the doubtful protection of one of its wings they watched as the two Japanese airplanes landed and began to taxi.

For some reason, known only to the Chinese military, defence of Chengtu Airfield did not exist. No fighter aircraft on standby alert, no anti-aircraft gun batteries, not even troops stationed as a guard. Knowing this, or acting out of total contempt of any danger, one of the pilots taking his plane to just a short distance from the airfield control hut, with a pistol in hand leaped from his cockpit and ran into the building. Those working there were soon seen emerging through back entrance and windows, scurrying away.

But it was the second aircraft that Chuck and Sam were paying most attention to. Taxiing to within a hundred yards of them with his cockpit pushed open the pilot brought it to a stop. With the engine and propeller left in full motion he scrambled out and began running towards them.

"Chuck, I'm gonna get the Winchester" shouted Sam flinging himself up and into their airplane's rear side door. Before leaving Santa Monica, Sam had hidden a rifle and ammunition in the panelling behind the co-pilot's seat. After their Acarigua experience a precaution once told of, Ashman readily agreed with.

Until the pilot left his machine and made a move towards him, Ashman felt no threat. But as the figure in leather helmet and a brown, bulky flying suit neared he noticed he was holding something in one of his hands. Drawing his 45 Colt pistol from his shoulder holster, a weapon he felt advisable to have and bought shortly after arriving in China, he took aim and fired a shot well over the pilot's head.

"I got a bead on him Chuck. Ya want me to polish him off?" Sam was knelt in the door of the DC3, the rifle in his shoulder.

"No Sam" shouted Ashman "just scare him off".

Sambrook levered out two quick shots, kicking up the gravel at his feet. Seeing he was up against armed men, the pilot, having stopped about fifty yards away now turned and dashed to his left.

"He going for the Condor Chuck?" cried Sam, jumping down from the plane's door.

Both men watched as the pilot, running clumsily in his flying boots drew near a duel winged passenger Curtiss aircraft. Quickly crouching, he struck what he had been carrying in his hand on the ground, then standing he drew it back over his shoulder.

"It's a grenade Sam. Make him dance" cried Chuck.

Sam, snapping the rifle to his shoulder fired three shots, again all at the pilot's feet. It may have worked because the smoking missile instead of sailing in through an open door, bounced off the fuselage to one side.

Picking himself up off the ground where he had dropped to just before the grenade exploded the pilot dashed back to his aircraft and in moments had turned his ship around for a speedy take-off.

"Gutsy little cuse" commented Sam "Should have let me shoot his ears off though!"

"Not worth it Sam" pointed out Chuck indicating the third plane still circling above.

"Might have got his buddy's dander up and come down and shot the blazes outta this place."

As the three Japanese aircraft flew away, the airfield control hut erupted in a blaze of fire.

CHAPTER 18
He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious.
Sun Tzu 500BC

Awakening by a voice near, Mark Ellison rolled onto his back to find it was Sincere Flute stood beside his cot bed.

"Yes Soldier Jen?" he asked forcing himself not to rub his eyes.

"It is Battalion Commander Yuan. He has sent word that he wishes to speak to all Company Commanders, Honoured Captain."

"Thank you Soldier Jen" acknowledged Ellison sitting up to swing his feet to the floor only rubbing his eyes after Jen had left him.

Looking at his watch he found it was almost ten in the morning. He had slept for five hours. The night before a platoon of his Company had attacked a newly constructed listening post the Japanese were eager to have in place. When told by Major Yuan that Colonel Pai had given permission for the raid to proceed he sat with the two Platoon Commanders chosen to carry it out going over their plan of action. One platoon would do the actual raid while the other laid up near to hand to give support and cover their withdrawal.

Mark resisted the hot cries within him to lead this himself. For he knew his platoon Commanders had to learn their own lessons in battle and gain confidence through it. As it turned out the raid was a success with only three wounded. A price well offset when Little Feet, the last to climb up from the river bed and over the trench parapet held up four fingers to him.

Pointed Sword was in Honan Province occupying a trench defence line that had not moved for three years. From Chungking they had marched for almost a month to first take up a defence line facing the communist forces in Shansi Province. They were moved on only a month later when the Area General ordered an attack be made on a village he suspected of being a communist enclave. Colonel Pai refused to take part, pointing out that they were the Generalissimo's allies now and were fighting the Japanese, like themselves, with fierce determination. Their reward for Pai's refusal was banishment and a long march to this new sector of the defence line that cut through China for almost two thousand miles.

The position that Ellison's 1st Battalion was occupying was an area allocated to the brigade referred to as the Crane's Neck. The boundary between the Japanese and themselves was a modest river but one with high clay banks. Over time the river had cut a course that formed a neck fifty yards wide and three hundred yards long with a head and beak two hundred yards by two hundred yards. There, over three years of ownership, the troops in occupation had dug deep spider web trenches, dug-outs and even deeper living quarters. The whole head and part of the neck, extended well into Japanese territory but overlooking it for the head was a fifty foot hillock giving clear views across to the enemy trenches, three hundred yards over the river and beyond.

Mark, slipping on his thick-soled sandals, stood to buckle around his waist his pistol belt and sling his sword over his back. Then placing his cap on, stepped through the door-less entrance of his combined command office and bedroom to the communication trench outside. With Sincere Flute following behind he began making his way towards the Battalion HQ bunker tucked behind the hillock on the Crane's head. Battalion HQ was central to the whole position, with 1 and 3 Company occupying each side of the head, Stands Erect's 2 Company the beak and Mark's 4 Company in reserve on the neck.

Outside the HQ bunker Mark found Stands Erect and Still Willows in conversation. On greeting them he asked of Still Willows how his three wounded were. She had been with him last night, waiting on their return from the raid and as promised had now reappeared to check their wounds. The meeting Major Yuan had called was to give Ellison the opportunity of explaining the nature of the night's raid and the outcome so the other Company Commander could gain the facts of it correctly for informing their men. Unless done so, truth tends to lose out to rumour and exaggeration. Major Yuan concluded his briefing by warning his Company Commanders to ensure their sentries kept a watchful eye. The Japanese were caught unawares, they had lost face. A reprisal is to be expected.

Before returning to his Company Headquarters, he, with Sincere Flute following, made a tour of his Company position. The Neck, fifty yards wide, had two trenches running along it, one each side; Extending from the main fortified position, where, the other two battalions of 1st Regiment were dug in, to the Crane's Head. Along this two Platoons were stationed in defence in each trench. Mark's inspection of his men turned out to be a circuit of gaiety. Because of their success the previous night, all, even those who missed out were jubilant and everyone broad in smiles. More so, the wounded, who Mark had a lengthy talk with.

On entering his HQ bunker Ellison removed his sword and pistol belt, placing them on his cot.

"It was a good night."

"Yes, a very good night" replied Mark to Blind Ox's comment of the raid. "We must hope all those in future continue to be as successful."

Blind Ox was sitting on a stool inside the entrance door observing the trench outside as Mark sat himself at a bench next to a small table. Four Company had no Second-in-Command so Blind Ox occupied the other cot in the bunker. Mark's HQ element was small, he, his Warrant Officer, a soldier clerk and two Company runners. One, Sincere Flute, who after the murder of his brother, he through best to keep him near.

Of the disappearance of the Provincial Governor, no suspicion had as yet been directed towards Mark or his Company. This could well be because of the stilling of all tongues on the deed by Blind Ox, Little Feet and other older members of the Company; making it quite clear what would happen to anyone foolish enough to divulge how the General had met his end. Or perhaps Loyal Monkey's informative narration was more truthful than he had first hoped.

On the evening of Mark's killing of the Governor, soon after his Company rejoined the rest of the Brigade for the night, Loyal Monkey had suggested they go for a walk whereupon he began a conversation in a strange way.

"You know White Thunder, I am glad we will be leaving this Province tomorrow."

"Now why is that?" asked Ellison.

"Because of the Provincial Governor. He is a very brutal and unpredictable man" explained Loyal Monkey continuing, "He is a relic of the old Warlords. Rules as a tyrant. Has a large personal army and taxes his people into servitude to him. The Generalissimo has to treat him with respect because his province is rich in food stuffs and minerals. Whenever Chiang calls him to Chungking for talks, Madam Chiang has to take up residence in his palace while he is away, as security to his safe return. If the Governor should meet with an unfortunate accident Chiang would rejoice. He prefers to do business with the son."

In the months since that conversation no reference to it has ever again been raised between them.

Shortly before the evening alert when the whole battalion was stood to their defences in readiness for any dusk surprise attack, Ellison paid a visit to Stands Erect and his Company on the Beak. He found him in the Company's main observation bunker with his binoculars scanning through a concealed slit at the Japanese positions across the river.

"Anything out of the ordinary Commander Han?" asked Ellison. There were soldiers of his Company also present in the bunker so Mark had to address his friend in a formal manner.

"No" replied Han stepping back from the slit to continue, "Which is as it should be but what has me curious is, why have the dwarfs not responded to your raid of last night? They have not even fired one mortar round!"

"Perhaps tonight they have something planned for us" suggested Ellison.

"If so, Two Company will greet them well" assured Han confidently.

"As we all will" agreed Mark.

--oOo--

The following morning, with no reaction from the Japanese having occurred, the Battalion stood down from their dawn alert to take breakfast and settle into the day's routine. Not long after, Still Willows and Bright Joy appeared on a normal visit to tour through the Companies, checking on anyone with ailments that may have arisen overnight. But also to again confirm those wounded on the raid were taking the proper actions regarding their healing.

Soon after Still Willows left to see to the rest of the Battalion, a runner arrived at Mark's bunker with a message from one of his Platoon Commanders requesting he come immediately. Taken by the messenger to the Company's very rear position where the neck joined the main trench line occupied by the 3rd Battalion, Mark found his Platoon Commander in the company of a Major he did not know.

"Reporting Honoured Major" announced Ellison saluting.

Standing sideways to Mark with his hands clasped behind his back he stared at Ellison without replying. Something as an Englishman in a Chinese uniform he was well used to; then he spoke.

"Your officer has been disobedient in obeying my commands. I have ordered him and his men to leave these trenches and move to the rear as I am now ordering you to do."

Mark didn't reply looking instead at his Platoon officer who instantly gave his explanation.

"I did not obey the Honoured Major's orders because I did not think it right to leave without first informing you Honoured Captain."

"You did the correct thing Lieutenant Chao." Then turning to the Major "Honoured Major forgive my reluctance to obey your orders but it is my duty to first ask who you are and on who's authority are you giving these orders?"

"I am Major Kuei of General Heng's staff and it is he who has given this order." Kuei's voice was raised and his hands were no longer behind his back.

Mark turned his head and spoke lowly to Sincere Flute behind him. "Soldier Jen run like the wind and bring Major Yuan here, quickly!"

Ellison then turned to the Major to explain he too could not obey his orders until his own Battalion Commander was informed. He then had to stand and listen while the Major raged at him that the orders were clear and that he should start his Company moving, now! Despite the repeated us of General Heng's name the Sector Commander, Mark resisted. When Major Yuan arrived he also found the Major's orders too absurd to obey outright and when asking questions of his own; where are we being sent to; who is relieving the Battalion; why was there no warning of this move; the reply to each was, "Not necessary to know" accompanied with a wave of a hand.

Finally, taking his Adjutant and a runner with him, telling Kuei he had to have clarification of these orders, Yuan left for Regimental Headquarters.

Not long after Stands Erect arrived to ask what was happening as from the rear of the Beak he had seen soldiers of both 1st and 3rd Battalions making their way rearwards out of the entrenchments. Meanwhile, Major Kuei who had been repeatedly glancing at his wristwatch, without a word began to walk away. As he was doing so Mark and the others were momentarily distracted with the arrival of the Battalion's other two Company Commanders, Captains Tsun and Ying who were seeking the truth of wild talk flashing around the trenches. When next Mark looked for Kuei, he was gone.

Only minutes later rifle shots were heard fired from their left somewhere within their own Regimental trenches.

"Lieutenant Chao" snapped Ellison as the sound of the last shot faded, "Take a patrol and investigate that shooting."

"It would be most wise if we brought our Companies to the alert" pointed out Stands Erect.

With runners being sent off to warn the Companies, Mark accompanied his Platoon Commander to the junction of the Neck and the main trench system where troops would normally have been in numbers, bunkers, sentry posts, routine trench foot traffic, there was none. As Mark stood at the junction awaiting his Platoon Commander's return Stands Erect joined him, as did Still Willows and Bright Joy.

"Is the talk true?" asked Still Willows. "Are we to leave?"

"It is unclear" answered Mark "But something is wrong."

"I must go then" she announced making to step into the main trench.

"No!" barked Han his arm firmly across her chest. "Wait!"

"But I have patients at the medical bunker" she protested.

"Commander Han is right Still Willows" advised Mark, "Wait with us until it becomes clear as to what is going on."

This was forthcoming moments later when two of Lieutenant Chao's patrol was seen returning holding a man between them who was trying to run with them but on stumbling legs. As he was placed down inside the junction of the Neck, Still Willows quickly went to work. For the man was wounded in the chest.

"Who shot you?" asked Stands Erect going down beside him on one knee.

"Dwarfs" he replied weakly.

"Where is Major Yuan?" asked Mark for this was the runner he had taken with him.

His reply was a shake of the head, one that took an effort to do so.

When Lieutenant Chao returned he had little to report except that for the wounded runner the Regimental position seemed empty. He couldn't confirm Japanese presence or find an explanation for the Regiment vacating the position so abruptly but on the strength of the runner's wounding and his unshaken belief that it was Japanese who shot him, defence action was taken. With 1 and 3 Companies providing strong patrols sent out to search wider, Mark set his Company to securing the Neck from what had been their friendly side. A hundred yards from the main position just forward of a communication trench that connected the Neck's two trenches he had barricades built should they find themselves being attacked from that direction.

When the patrols returned their reports were similar and disturbing. They had been confronted by Japanese, not though with hostility but with smiles and friendly beckoning. Fearing a trap both Patrol Commanders wisely withdrew. Not until after dark was the circumstances of the day's confusing events made known. A soldier from Brigade Headquarters, sent by Loyal Monkey appeared out of the river bed. He had slipped through the Japanese in occupation of Pointed Sword's old trenches, to work his way up river to the Crane's Neck. What he had to relate was startling.

The message that Loyal Monkey had given him was one of betrayal. Some months earlier General Heng had had a falling out with Generalissimo Chiang, in so doing losing face. In revenge Heng negotiated a plan of treachery with the local Japanese Commander allowing him to infiltrate his lines forcing his troops into having to accept unopposed surrender. Now fully alarmed the officers of the Battalion held a Council of War.

The first issue to be dealt with, called attention to by Captain Tsun, the Commander of 1 Company, was with Major Yuan gone, dead or prisoner, who is to take command. In the silence that followed one by one all eyes, Ellison's included, turned to Stands Erect. Realising the meaning of their stares and the silence from all, Han accepted their unorthodox appointment with misgivings in his heart but outwardly showed no sign of it.

"Very well; if you all agree" he acknowledged. Then, "Mister Kun, how long will our food last?"

Slow Boil sitting crouched against the wall just inside the entrance was unseen in the dim light of the oil lantern but answered instantly. "Three days Honoured Captain."

Turning to his runner Han gave him an order, "Soldier Ma. Find Sergeant Ho and bring him here!"

For the next ten minutes Han questioned each Company Commander on the condition of their weapons, amounts of ammunition held and their opinion on the situation. When Little Feet appeared at the entrance Han ended further discussion.

"Officers of the First Battalion I can see we are faced with three roads to take. One; surrender to the Japanese. Two; remain here and fight the dwarfs, or three, make an escape." Pausing, Han looked at each of the officers giving them time to challenge his assessment.

"I for one will never surrender and to fight here is to invite annihilation or starvation" stated Mark before asking, "But an escape; How?"

"East" replied Stands Erect, "The dwarfs will expect us to try to go west, or north or south by the river, never through their own lines."

Again Han paused to let his words work their effect before addressing Little Feet, "Sergeant Ho, while there is still darkness you must go across the river and find where the enemy is least observant. For tomorrow night you will lead us away from this place. The rest of you, return to your Companies and make ready to leave but give no sign to the dwarfs you are doing so. For he thinks he has us trapped like mice in a pot. But soon he will learn that these mice have wings."

CHAPTER 19
Once on a tiger's back, it is hard to alight.
Chinese Proverb

Lowering his binoculars, Commander Han continued to watch the object of his interest with the naked eye that had held his vigil for over an hour. He lay in cover on the crown of a crumbling, rocky, scrub-covered foothill overlooking a broad fertile plain of ripened maize. Behind him a stream ran from higher hills that passed through a shallow valley where a pool had formed before continuing around Han's hill, then down to the plain a mile beyond. Around this pool and on both banks of the stream the Companies of his Battalion sprawled, resting, cleaning weapons and awaiting the evening meal that Slow Boil's company cook boys were preparing. This did not include 4 Company. Mark Ellison's Platoons were stationed among the hills around them, guarding their flanks.

It was the tenth day since Han's Battalion's escape from the Crane's Neck, a most fortunate flight in many ways. Fortunate in Little Feet's success in finding an unguarded route through the Japanese lines and fortunate in the Japanese adopting a none-violent stance against them. The day in which they had to wait through, the only defensive action they had to take was in response to an attempt to secure their surrender by marching into the trenches with baskets of food, singing. This ploy ended when Stands Erect ordered the first basket carrier to be shot. For the rest of the day they were randomly mortared. Just enough to restrict movement but casualties did occur.

That night the Battalion left the Crane's Neck, Company by Company down the Crane's beck to the river bed then through the enemy's lines. Regrettably, having to leave those wounded unable to walk, behind. Once Han judged it safe, he had the formation changed on reaching a road from single file to Company Order of four ranks and lead them in march down the road.

Concealing themselves during the day, the first on a boulder strewn hillside, they marched through the nights. On the fourth night they crossed a railway line which had Han alter their march pattern to daylight. For he knew the Japanese only controlled the country twenty li either side of the rail tracks which reduced their possibility of detection now, to aircraft only. They also began to live off the villages they came to. In late afternoon they would halt outside a chosen village and request food and shelter for the night. In repayment the Battalion would spend the next morning working at a task the village was in need of, wells were dug, crops harvested, for it was late August and the fields were laden with the year's second harvest. For the women of the villages, Still Willows distribution of needles from the stock given her by Mark on his return from Hong Kong was to them ample repayment.

One village requested their aid in building a ford over its river. A toil made short work of when six hundred soldiers gather up the river's stones and reset them as a causeway. As an armed band they could have taken what they had need of and more but Stands Erect's peasant heritage affirmed an iron resolve to treat the villagers fairly. Then, well before noon they would resume their march eastwards in search of a sanctuary where they could consolidate and plan their future actions.

"Soup, Honoured Captain?"

Han glancing to his right found a bowl placed beside him by Guards Alone.

Acknowledging with a nod of his head Han then gave his runner an order. "Soldier Ma, find Captains Tsun and Ying and Lieutenant Ao. Tell them I want their presence here with me, now!"

On arriving the three Company Commanders, for Lieutenant Ao had been appointed 2 Company Commander in replacement of Han, found their Battalion Commander, once again with his binoculars to his eyes. Indicating they should take up positions beside him he handed his binoculars for each to observer.

"For over an hour I have watched that smoke across the plain" he began, pointing to five narrow pillars of grey smoke rising from an unseen source ten miles or more in the distance. "Farmers don't waste fuel senselessly. Now if you look closely you will see a column approaching along the track leading from that smoke."

"Yes! I see it!" confirmed Lieutenant Ao before passing the glasses to Captain Tsun.

"At the pace they are travelling they will reach us within an hour before dark. I believe they are dwarfs pillaging through the district. If so and their number is less than a hundred, we will kill them all." Han paused for a moment allowing his words to fully register with his Company Commanders before continuing.

"Those huts below us on the track where the stream runs through" Commander Han pointed down the hill to a cluster of ten or so dwellings that straddled the track at the base of the hill with groves of trees bordering the stream and across the track between it and the fields of maize. "The farmers living there must have seen the smoke and took fright. For I have just watched them and their families flee away to the south west. If this is a dwarf raiding party they will, I'm sure, rest at these abandoned huts for the night and that is where we will set our trap."

Han looked to each of his Commanders who confirmed their understanding with a nod before he gave out his orders of engagement. "Captain Tsun you and First Company will position yourselves in the trees north of the stream above the huts. If they stop to occupy the dwellings you will attack them when you think it is best. If they do not stop, attack them before they proceed beyond the huts. Captain Ying, take your Third Company down the stream bed to where the track bends. Conceal yourselves and let the column pass. But when Captain Tsun attacks, any dwarfs retreating back to you, you will kill. If the dwarfs remain and fight, you will cross the track and get behind them through the tree groves and attack them from their rear. Lieutenant Ao your Second Company will be in reserve in the trees at the foot of this hill behind First Company. I will be with First Company. If they need your assistance I will send a runner to explain how your help will be required. However I first want you to detach one of your Platoons to block the west exit from the hutments. They are to open fire on anyone trying to escape through them."

Again, the Captain paused for his words to register. Then turning to Guards Alone, "Soldier Ma. Go to Captain Lin. Tell him what the rest of the Battalion is about to do. Then tell him my orders for his Company is that they are to gather here and secure this hill and valley. If the enemy is too strong and we have to retreat, then this is where we will fall back to. Is that clear?"

"Yes, Honoured Captain" replied Ma.

"Good! Then go. Find Captain Lin."

"Is everyone clear on the plan?" Han directed his words to his three subordinates.

"Good, then return to your Companies and brief them on what action you wish them to take" he continued after an affirmative from each.

"Mr Kun and his cook boys, Still Willows and the ammunition carriers are to remain here. In twenty minutes we will leave here by following the stream. Three Company will lead, then One Company, then Two. Is that clear to all?"

--oOo--

An hour later all elements of the Battalion were in position, concealed and waiting.

The first of the Battalion to observe the column and spy out its composition was Three Company at the bend of the track to the east of the hutments. Japanese, eighty Captain Ying counted, twenty driving carts pulled by single Mongolian ponies. There was an advance guard of about twenty marching in two ranks, with another twenty at the rear. The rest were interspaced among the carts some escorting their prisoners, young women and girls. Fifteen, roped together in groups of five, secured by their necks, their hands tied in front.

As the column passed into the centre of the hutted area an officer, sword at his waist, stepped to the side of the track, calling a warrant officer to him. Within moments the column halted, the soldiers drifting off to sit or investigate the huts. The captives were taken to one of these, their neck ropes removed and herded inside with two guards placed front and back. The officer was soon joined by another but younger and two sergeants. They conferred briefly then as the other three dispersed the first officer, with a servant following entered another of the huts.

Commander Han, crouched beside Captain Tsun his 1st Company Commander whispered, "I see no machine-guns and they neglect their basic soldier skills. When you are ready, make them pay."

Tsun, without taking his eyes off the enemy nodded.

To the side of the track all carts were halted with the ponies being removed from their harnesses. Cooking pots were taken from the carts and a cook area set up. A detail of three with wooden water buckets were making their way to the stream.

The stream bed, about twenty-five yards from the track, had over its life eaten down five to six feet. With no well to be seen this must have been the water source for those living there. To reach the stream bed a broad cutting of several feet in width allowed access. Captain Tsun on first arriving had placed one of his Platoons in the stream bed and were waiting, hidden against its bank as the three water collectors stepped into the bed from the cutting. All three perished without a cry under sword blows and knife thrusts.

The next to die were a party herding the ponies to drink. They, with shouts and slaps sent the ponies racing down the cutting to scatter through the shallow water to left and right. Then, five handlers striding down the cutting, followed to a sudden and violent death. However, a sixth, who had remained above, in shocked horror seeing his comrades being slashed to death, turned running, a terrified shriek parting his lips.

At this point, Captain Tsun gave the signal for his Company to open fire. With most Japanese idly lounging at a range of no more than sixty or seventy yards many received wounds, some mortally so. The shock of the attack had others confused as to what to do. Some sought cover, others ran. The officer and his servant rushed from the hut and were shot down. The Warrant Officer tried to organise a defence around the carts waving a short sword and screaming for fire to be returned before he himself toppling to the ground.

The Platoon in the stream bed, with ponies stampeding all ways, clambered out of the bed and crawled towards the track where they could get clear shots at any target in sight. The Platoon Commander of Tsun's left-hand Platoon with few enemy to his front took his men across the stream up to the track where they could direct their shooting into the flank of those Japanese still holding out around the carts and huts on the opposite side of the track.

Meanwhile, Captain Ying's with 3 Company, having dealt with five panic-stricken enemy who had rushed back the way they had come, on seeing the ambush was not spreading beyond the hutments, lead two of his Platoons across the track and through the trees to the rear flank of the enemy just as they, realising the peril, attempted to escape through the tree grove and out into the maize. A small number seeing those around them being cut down by 3 Company's fire recoiled to seek a safer escape to the west but ran headlong into the 2 Company Platoon positioned there to bar just such an attempt as theirs.

At the ambush site only three Japanese held out, in a hut. However, on realising the hopelessness of their circumstances they did the honoured thing. Placing the muzzle of their rifles under their chins they squeezed the trigger with a toe, blowing the top of their heads off.

On crossing the stream, Han went first to the hut where the captives were held. Seeing they were safe, he confirmed they had been taken from the village where the smoke rose, and sent them swiftly on their way home under a ten man escort. The memory of his own taken sister haunting him as he watched them go.

On speaking to his Commanders he found casualties were light, one dead and five wounded. A runner was sent to have 4 Company join them and for Still Willows to see to the wounded. Then as night was nearing he ordered all Japanese bodies gathered in, stipulating that each one must have a blade thrust through its heart, none must live to escape.

At the point of dismissing his officers a messenger arrived from the 2 Company Platoon Commander securing the track's western exit. A deputation of district elders had appeared at their ambush location approaching from the west, requesting to speak to their Commander. On allowing this, some minutes later, Commander Han watched as four figures in farmer's dress arrived among the flurry of bringing order to their recent battle site.

Japanese bodies were being carried in and laid in rows by the track. There each was having their equipment and useful clothing stripped from them. Weapons and ammunition were collected to a central point. Ponies, still in an alarmed state, were found, clamed and returned to the stream bed. With this clamour continuing around them, the four, two elderly gentlemen, a young man and a young woman in her early twenties, stopped before Han to introduce themselves.

"Honoured Captain" began one of the older men with a thin, white, stringy beard, bowing his head, "We are members of the district Anti-Japanese Committee. I am Mister Fan and this is Mister Hsing, Mister Jui and Miss Lin."

The two other men also bowed their heads but not the young woman. She was observing all the soldiers' activities around the hutment area with an intent calmness.

"I am Commander Han, Commander of First Battalion, First Regiment Pointed Sword Brigade and these are my Company officers" replied Stands Erect, indicating them with a wave of his hand.

"Captain, you have had a successful engagement" spoke up Lin in an abrupt tone of someone more concerned with the consequences of the encounter than addressing him with politeness and praise. "But now we must discuss how we are to conceal from the Japanese how and where one of their plundering bands have gone missing."

They then agreed to continue in one of the huts where because of the failing light an oil lantern, found in one of the carts, was hung and lit. A family home, they sat on stools at the eating table, Lin and the older men one side, Han and his two Captains the other. Also filling the room were other officers, runners, the younger member of the committee, Jui and one other a fifth member that few had noticed because he had kept at a silent, discreet distance. A man in his mid-fifties and someone who would always be found wherever Miss Lin was, High Heart.

"Captain" began Lin, "Your allegiance. Is it to the Nationalist cause or the Communists?"

Han held his reply for a number of seconds assessing the bluntness of the question and the fact that the older men were obviously comfortable in allowing the woman to be the dominate speaker. "We were part of a Provincial Brigade fighting with the Nationalist forces but our allegiances are to China."

"And how is it that you and your Battalion are so far behind the Japanese front line?" asked Lin.

"So you are here because of a Nationalist General's Treachery" confirmed Lin, having listened to the Captain's tale of the last few weeks. Han nodded.

"Captain" Lin removed her arms from the table to clasp her hands in her lap, "For the past two years the Japanese have sent bands of soldiers through our district, like the one you have just destroyed, plundering our harvests and taking young girls. They have come early this year the harvest is not yet in. We do not have the arms and have never resisted. Our method of surviving has been to leave food they could find, hid the rest, and then avoid the dwarfs by running away. Your actions here, which I and many in the district have long wished to happen, may not prove of benefit to us. You and your men can march away while; if the Japanese discover this massacre of their soldiers took place here they would not rest until they had slaughtered every living thing for a hundred li."

"Then we will not leave until every sign that they were here has been removed. Tomorrow we will bury every dwarf under the maize and replant the stocks over them. The carts we can burn, and kill the ponies or conceal them in the hills. It is not our intention that you and your villagers should suffer because of our actions." Captain Han's words were delivered forcefully and what seemed to Lin with honest meaning.

Before she could reply the hut door opened, the lantern light revealing a tall, clean shaven, white foreigner in Chinese Army uniform.

Turning on his stool to see who it was entering, Han immediately informed those of the Committee "This is Captain Lin, another of my Company Commanders, he is an Englishman" then asking, "Captain Lin, Still Willows is she attending the wounded?"

"Yes Commander" replied Mark using a title the Battalion had now adopted in addressing Han.

Removing his cap, Mark brushed a hand through his hair before glancing at the faces of the strangers at the table. Intending to cast no more than a glimpse at each his eyes were stopped and held by Miss Lin's whose were locked onto his. Curious as to why this woman was staring so intently at him he found himself also staring until thunder struck; he realised who she was and was about to cry a greeting when her head gave a slight shake, her eyes pleading for him to remain silent.

Puzzled, Mark did so, their exchange unseen by any of the others in the room when Mister Fan on hearing wounded mentioned, disclosed that they had a doctor in their village just two li away and that they should be taken there. Unseen yes, except by one, High Heart.

--oOo--

Come! She is waiting."

Ellison, who had selected one of the western fringe huts as his Company Headquarters for the night awoke with a start as the whispered voice withdrew from his ear. He had chosen to sleep not in the hut but behind it, under an open thatched roofed yard area.

Sitting up, in the bright moonlight he recognised the man standing above him as one of those in the hut of the evening before, he who stood in the shadows.

"Yes! You have a message?" asked Mark not quite clear as to what had been said to him.

"Miss Lin. She waits" came the reply in a hushed whisper.

Ellison, standing, collecting his sword and rifle, placed a hand on Sincere Flute's shoulder, having awoken and sat up, to assure his runner he would not be away long. Following High Heart onto the track they turned west passed the sentry picket and over a low hill to a group of tall, ancient trees, their leaves and trunk silver in the moonlight. As High Heart stopped to allow the Englishman to walk on, a figure rose from sitting on the track's low banking.

"Hello Mark" a voice greeted in English.

"Hello Ann" responded Ellison, also in English.

"Are you well?" she asked. Both were stood in the centre of the track no more than five feet apart.

"Yes! But much more so now I know you are alive. All the time I was in Nanking I never stopped searching for you" he confessed.

"Yes" began Ann feeling she owed Mark the courtesy of an explanation. "I escaped the city just days after you left me at the hospital. I was confused and frightened and wished only to get away from the Japanese and their horror."

"You did the right thing" assured Ellison, "The acts by the dwarfs only got more hideous each day."

"But you?" she asked, "You have survived and look, a soldier in our Army. Why is this?"

By the time Ellison had concluded relating to Ann all he thought she should hear of the burying of Frances and her parents, he and David's escape from Nanking, his death in battle, and his own continuance with Pointed Sword, they were sitting side-by-side on the bank.

"Now, yourself" he ended, "How did you come so far north? We are a long way from Nanking."

"Not that great a distance. North Anhwei Province, near the Kiangsu border" she corrected, "And I was asked to come. They needed a leader."

"You were asked?" questioned Mark, "By who?"

"It is not important at the moment but it is most important why last night when you entered the hut I indicated to you that you should show no recognition of me" Ann began, "When I first arrived here over two years ago the district had just experienced its first visit from the Japanese. They were frightened and in despair. I gave them guidance and showed them how to avoid further misery from the despicable monsters that call themselves human."

Looking up she held Ellison's eyes firmly with hers. "Mark, throughout the district I am looked upon with high esteem. Someone who has given them hope for their future. If it should be known that I had been violated by those evil creatures my standing here would be diminished to the point where I may never again hold their trust."

"Ann, since that day I have spoken of it to no-one. Not even David" confessed Mark holding her eyes as firmly as she held his, "As for doing so, here, now. I would sooner be struck dead."

"Thank you, Mark" responded the young woman to his forthright pledge. "You see it is not a question of my virtue but the undermining of the villagers' resolve."

"I understand" replied Mark. Then with a thought to lightening the solemn mood they had been conversing in for the last half hour he added "But my silence will come at a high price."

The young woman, taken aback by this, hadn't the time to gather her thoughts to reply before Ellison continued, "When this war is finished with I'll expect you to allow me to take you out for a first-class dinner at the Hong Kong Gloucester!"

Ann, yet again taken aback but even more so by, given the circumstances they were there in and the absurdity of thinking that far ahead, rocked backwards with a low chuckle followed by a short laugh. Mark watched and smiled.

Many yards away High Heart also heard the laugh and although not outwardly showing so, felt warmth of happiness. This was the first occasion he had heard Fallen Dove express joy.

CHAPTER 20
A good Commander shares both the sweet and the bitter with his men.
General Li Tsung-jen

At first light Han had his Battalion awakened and alert with Slow Boil hurrying around his Company cook boys' dispersing sleepy idleness. Before a morning meal was served Han had his Company Commanders in conference, allocating tasks and details, to eliminate all trace that an ambush had occurred around the hutments, resulting in the annihilation of a large Japanese force. Soon after the morning meal was taken, Mister Jui, the younger member of the District Committee arrived, leading the families of the hutment, returning to reclaim their homes.

Taking Jui to the edge of the track, Stands Erect, with a stick, had him draw a sketch of the district in the dust. Questioning him on distances between villages, where they were, which tracks led to them, how large were they. Also, what did he know of beyond his district? How far was the nearest railway, the largest town, were they visited by outsiders. How often had the Japanese come to their district, what strength and where was their closest base.

Of the questions, Jui's answers to those concerning the district were of no difficulty. Etching tracks, village locations along them and tracing a river where it flowed from the hills, south through the district and away. These hills, the one Han's men had marched across the day before, rose to three thousand feet and ran along the north of the plain as far as could be seen from the north east to fade south west into a purple haze.

Of Han's other questions relating to locations further away he was less informed. But the Commander had expected this, he too was a farmer before his village had been destroyed, he too had known very little of its far surrounding. Regardless, now armed with Jui's information of his district and its layout sketch firmly fixed in his mind, he asked to be taken to their main village, the one two li away, just over the rise to their west. He needed to have another meeting with the District Committee.

--oOo--

Standing on the veranda of her clinic, it was too small to be called a hospital; Ruth McRae watched as the small party from the village left the track and made their way up the hundred yards of pathway towards her. It was mid-morning and the late summer sun beginning to affirm its presence but not yet however, under the shade of the veranda's reed roof where Ruth stood.

After a year she still enjoyed the view, the location of which she had selected herself. On being asked by Fallen Dove where she wished her clinic built, it was to this spot she came. A quarter of a mile outside the village walls, away from the smell that had hung there for centuries, it had a broad view of the plain and the river below with its lush green banks of trees, grass and bamboo winding away southwards.

Turning, she called through the doorway of her mud-bricked clinic to a young woman speaking to one of the soldiers lying on a bamboo bed whom she had arrived with the night before.

"Still Willows. I believe we have some more of your boys coming to call."

Ruth spoke in English having found on her arrival that Still Willows, Shanghai educated, spoke both English and French.

"Oh yes" she confirmed on joining Ruth, "That is our Commander, Captain Han with two of his Company officers, Captain Tsun and Captain Lin. You will be surprised to know that Captain Lin is an Englishman."

"Yes, that is a surprise!" agreed Ruth watching as Fallen Dove led the way onto her veranda with the District Committee and the three officers following.

After the introductions Mark offered his hand, with, spoken in Chinese so all could hear "I'll not ask you what you're doing here if you don't ask me."

"Agreed" smiled Ruth shaking his hand as the others laughed.

"Doctor" began Fallen Dove, "We have come for two reasons. The first is, Captain Tsun would like to see his wounded and the Committee would like your advice on some matter regarding Commander Han and his men."

"I'll take Captain Tsun to see his men Doctor" offered Still Willows stepping to the clinic doorway.

With Still Willows and Tsun leaving them, Ruth motioned the others to be seated on the bamboo chairs and benches positioned on the veranda, the floor of which was also bamboo, narrow poles lashed together.

"Doctor" began Ann, "As you must realise our life here, with the arrival of Commander Han and his Battalion has caused a change. Although it was a wondrous victory over the hated dwarf devils we do not know what reaction is to be expected from them now."

"They will send airplanes in search" spoke up Hsing.

"And their puppet spies" added Mister Jui.

"Yes" continued Ann, "And perhaps more soldiers. For this we must be ready. Now Doctor, in the past months your clinic has been adequate for our needs but now Commander Han and his men will be staying with us for a time, will this burden you?"

"I can't really say" answered Ruth, "If we are to have pitched battles like yesterday, I and the clinic will be hard pressed. Your nurse Still Willows and her young assistant Bright Joy proved of immense help to me and my girls with your wounded last night. If you have others like them…?" Ruth paused to look at Han who shook his head.

"Let us just hope the dwarfs take their visits elsewhere" spoke up Mark.

"Commander Han, how many men do you have?" asked Ruth.

"Six hundred" replied Han.

"And they are all to remain here at Sweet Water?" she asked using the village name.

"No!" answered Ann, "They will take up residence spread through the whole district.

"We will build our own huts and become part of the villages and share the farmers' work with them" added Han.

"And how long do you expect you will stay?" asked the Doctor.

"Until the harvest is in and the threat from the dwarfs has passed or when the leaves have left the trees" replied Han.

When the discussion had come to a close with everyone leaving Han took Ruth aside to ask "The wounded, will they heal?"

Taking a breath Ruth answered "Three, unless infection takes hold, should. The thigh wound with the broken bone, may. But unless the bone knits he will be a cripple. The stomach wound has no hope. I do not have the surgical skill or the medicine. He will die."

Nodding in thank you Han turned to follow the others.

--oOo--

That afternoon Han dispersed his Companies to assigned areas throughout the district. Guides were provided to take each to villages at the extreme boundaries of the district. Three Company, west eight miles to Plum Blossoms. A village at a Y-junction where one track continuing west, the other bent south to High Hawk five miles further on. A village straddling a crossroads. One Company was taken south along a track that followed the river from Sweet Water to Parrot Nest a village six miles distant where the track continued on south out of the district. But from it a junction track ambled westward across the cultivated plain to High Hawk where 2 Company was setting up its base. Mark Ellison's 4 Company remained at Sweet Water, the largest of the district's villages as did Stands Erect with his small Battalion HQ element.

The following week was a whirlwind for everyone in the district. The Japanese bodies were secure below the maize but somehow a deception plan had to be formed and agreed on. Finally proposed by Captain Ying and accepted by the District Committee. Along a route leading from the hutments through Sweet Water, Plum Blossom and south beyond High Hawk, selected huts were burned and crop fields once harvested were also set alight. Hoping that this would fool those looking from the sky into thinking that the missing band of marauding Japanese pillagers had passed through to have disappeared elsewhere.

The ponies and their carts were retained and distributed around the district farms. They were a treasured prize, too valued to dispose of and worth every risk to retain. The Japanese arms taken at the ambush were put to use, requested by Ann Lin, in training and arming village militias. A programme of building barrack hutments for Han's men was instigated but only made a priority where accommodation could not be provided in the villages or farms.

Alertness to the enemy was also of high concern. Patrols and picket posts were soon in place and active around the District's borders. Han withdrew Little Feet from his Platoon duties and put him in command of District Scouts. These were youths of fifteen or sixteen who, before the survivors of Pointed Sword arrived, were posted on tracks and pathways to warn of Japanese approaches. "I can still smell your mother's milk in your mouths" he told them on taking over but didn't hesitate in quizzing each with "You have sister? Her feet, are they little?"

On the fifth day after the ambush a twin-engine aircraft flew over Sweet Water following the track to Plum Blossoms, High Hawk and away south. This occurred every day despite low rain clouds, at the same time for a week, then ceased. Each day after, Han had expected to receive from one of his patrols a warning that a Japanese column was approaching the district but none appeared.

Concurrently, with providing a military presence, now the August rains had finished, Han's Companies also helped out where they could with the year's second harvest. Maize, potatoes, sweet potatoes, buckwheat, beans, turnips and flax and cotton. All the food stuffs stored or preserved, while the flax and cotton were put away for dealing with on winter days.

As the days passed to weeks a routine was settled into, sentry post duty, patrols day and night, work in the fields and on barrack hut construction. Any free moment would be spent in helping the farmers in whatever was needed.

Han in his tours of his Companies could see the way his command was slipping into this steady pattern but let it continue. To him it served two purposes allowing them to rest and to eat well and seeing at first hand who it was they would be defending should the dwarfs come. These tours became a regular occurrence. At least once each week to discuss with his Company Commanders any matters that may have arisen, judge the wellbeing of the men and monitor any work that they had been tasked.

Mark Ellison's 4 Company stationed as they were at the main village were not allowed the opportunity of believing themselves the Palace Guard. One Platoon was always posted at the hutment where the Battalion had carried out its successful ambush. Another, patrolling the hills north above the village and one providing sentries and guards. The fourth would normally be out in the fields with the farmers working the harvest.

Because of their ignorance as to what the Japanese reaction would be to the vanishing of one of their raiding columns, Mark constantly made his men aware of the danger of being surprised. In monitoring their vigil he found himself invariably taking part, patrolling, observation duty and checking picket post in the high hills. On the days that Han was on tour Mark would also have to take on the duty of stand-in Commander. What free time he was able to gain, if not called away or teaching at the school she had begun, Mark would spend with Ann, sipping drinks under a pear tree in her small yard.

Their conversations ranged and roamed but never of Nanking or her family. Instead it was the future they talked of the most. Ann of her vision and hopes for China once Japan had been thrown form her shores. And Mark's lesser ambitions of returning to Hong Kong to resume the job he had given up with Livingston's.

Both found these visits of Mark pleasing for they could, for an hour or so, drift away from the district and its obligation. Another who found Mark's visits gratifying was High Heart. Watching them through the window of his small room adjoining Ann's for she would smile when the Englishman came and smile when he left.

--oOo--

A visitor came to the district in the first week of October, alone, but known to Ann.

He appeared late one morning at a 2 Company's patrol post and was brought to Sweet Water by one of Lieutenant Ao's officers. Taken to Han's Headquarters, he introduced himself as Major Yeh, a guerrilla force Commander whose stronghold vicinity was a day and a half's march to the south-west. This was confirmed by Ann when called, arriving in company with Mark Ellison.

Yeh, of medium height, early thirties, a thin but handsome face, greeted Fallen Dove warmly. He had come; he began, to pay his respects on hearing that a Nationalist Force had settled in Ann's district. Yeh, signified by the red star on his peaked cap, was obviously in command of a communist force. Without hesitation he asked Han what was he and his soldiers' future intentions. First ordering warm drinks be brought, the Captain explained the circumstances for their arrival in the district and his intention of possibly leaving to regain the Nationalist line once it was clear the district was safe for the winter.

Yeh, sitting with one knee across the other, his drink held in both hands, listened without interruption then placing his cup on Han's table, pulled from inside his jacket a map to unfold and also lay on the table.

"Captain" he began, "All through the summer Mao Tse-tung's Eighth Route Army has been fighting along the railways south of Peiping. Our One Hundred Regiment offensive. It has been successful but costly to us in troops. Now we must consolidate." Yeh's finger traced the map. "The enemy have been bringing reinforcements from the south up the railway that is sixty li north of you, here!" This time Yeh let his finger rest.

Both Han and Ellison leaned forward.

"From where you are here in the district you are well positioned to strike and disrupt that railway" continued Yeh.

Stands Erect, studying the map for some moments, looked to the Major, then sat back in his chair, "Honoured Major are you saying that you would like us to attack the dwarf railway before we leave?"

"Yes" answered Yeh, "If you intend to do so. But I would rather have you stay. You are secure here and we can support each other if needed."

Han looked to Mark but did not ask his advice. "I will have to consult my other Company Commanders. They will be sent for and no doubt the District Committee will meet to consider this as well." Han looked to Ann Lin who nodded. "Will the Honoured Major stay for our evening meal and rest with us for the night? You should by then have all our answers."

--oOo--

Major Yeh's visit, although a welcomed one of revealing the presence of allies, was the source of a ripple of discord within Han's ranks. When he and his officers met and agreed to Yeh's proposal to remain as guardians of the district in support of the communist offensive to the north, some of the Battalion members voiced disapproval. When questioned by Han it boiled down to either worry of fighting behind enemy lines or homesickness for Fukien. After a number of clear but firm talks from the Commander on their soldier responsibilities, only a small number remained unchanged. These were given to Major Yeh who would see they were passed back through the Japanese lines. Of those that remained there were no 'broken reeds", all at ease with their role in the district. Some more than others. For before the Japanese invaded the province a Nationalist recruiting detachment had swept through the district pressing many young men into the army causing an imbalance of young girls to men.

Given the disruption of the railway by Yeh, as his priority, Han now had to formulate a plan of action of how he was to conduct this. And the first step towards this was for him to go north to carry out a full reconnaissance of the railway. For this he, with complete confidence, told Little Feet and his scouts to escort him.

On taking on the role of Scout Commander Little feet had asked for firearms for his scouts as they in the past had carried only spears or knives. Refused because of shortages, Little Feet found his own way of obtaining his needs. For three or four days at a time, he and a few of his scouts would disappear north, to the railway or Japanese occupied towns where single sentries stood or prowled. Before the end of October most of his scouts had rifles. Han found out what his Scout Commander was up to but said nothing. Now he was going to profit from this turning of a blind eye.

One of the Battalion Commander's chief worries was ammunition for his rifles. Those issued them at Chungking had a different calibre to that of the Japanese. Once they had expended what they carried, unless resupplied somehow, their weapons would be useless. This was mentioned to Major Yeh who understood Han's concern and promised to see what could be done. The Battalion Commander though knew, he somehow, had to conjure up methods of disrupting rail movements without becoming involved in pitch battles.

CHAPTER 21
When you aim at the rat, beware of the vase.
Chinese Proverb

Dreamily watching out his side window as the low-hilled countryside of Shensi Province drifted towards him then under his port wing, Chuck Ashman turned his head to his right and looked up on reacting to a tap on his shoulder. It was Sam Sambrook who, with a nod of his head, indicated he should leave his pilot's seat and join him in the cargo hold. Taking off his radio headphones to place them in a side compartment he shouted to his Chinese co-pilot, "Harry, you got it? Just gonna have a word with Sam."

On leaving his seat Sam motioned him to follow down the aircraft. Squeezing past loads roped and strapped to strong points in the floor, Sam stopped beside a load partially covered with a canvas sheet.

"I wanted you to have a look at this" announced Sam pointing to a hessian wrapped bundle the size of a loaf of bread, one of a number. It was being squashed against a retaining rope where a rupture in the hessian was causing its contents to leak.

"What?" asked Chuck, not seeing any major damage.

Sam, reaching down took a pinch of grey powdery substance at the rupture between thumb and finger, then held it up for the pilot to have a better look. "Seen it before?" asked Sam.

"Not sure" replied Chuck, "What is it?"

"Opium" declared Sam beating it from his fingers.

"Dope" responded Ashman heatedly "Someone's got us running his dope."

"Looks like" agreed Sam.

"Well how did the junk get aboard?" ranted Chuck now becoming angry.

"Just got put aboard with the rest of the stuff" explained Sam. "Hell Chuck it ain't my job to open up all this freight we haul."

"Well we ain't hauling it any further" stated Ashman hotly starting to untie the lashings securing the opium bundles, "Get the door open".

Ten minutes later, after Sam, having put his shoulder against the door, pushing into the strong wind pressure from the outside, Chuck had thrown the ten opium bundles into the China sky and returned to his seat.

Landing at Sian late that evening Ashman watched as the freight was being unloaded hoping he would be asked by someone of the whereabouts of the missing bundles. He was not surprised when no-one did but he did notice his co-pilot Harry Wong having heated words with an army officer near one of the loading sheds.

The next morning he and Sam arrived at the airfield early. It was New Year's Eve 1941 and they both wanted to get back to Chengtu in time to catch the party being held at one of their fellow American's bungalows. The evening before Harry Wong had told them he wouldn't be staying in the company transit hotel because of an invitation from a cousin to stay the night with him. With no sign of him on their arrival, Chuck got on with his pre-flight checks while Sam seen to the securing of the loads.

After their second cup of coffee at the control tower, both men, having waited an hour longer than they had intended, made the decision to leave without their co-pilot. There was more to this resolve to go than just giving up the wait for Harry. This was December, a China winter. The weather conditions this time of year were freakish and hard to predict. Chuck was given a briefing on expected cloud height and wind direction but he had learned not to trust their reliability.

Once into the air they were plagued by sheets of low cloud while above them a high overcast kept the sun hidden. Flying on instruments, without a co-pilot, Chuck was kept busy keeping note of aircraft speed, possible wind drift and compass heading. After two hours he judged it safe to take the aircraft down to a lower height with the hill ranges between Sian and Chengtu well behind them. Coming out of cloud at a thousand feet Ashman began looking for reference landmarks, features he could get his bearing from. But in an instance he knew something had gone navigationally wrong. If he was nearing Chengtu he should by now be within the bounds of the Red Basin, the soil a distinctive brick rouge. But here, below him where the soil was bare, the earth was a pale cream colour.

"That don't look much like home down there" commented Sam, stood in the cabin doorway.

"Get in the other seat Sam" ordered Ashman, "Give me a hand with the ship while I try to find out where we are."

With Sambrook seated in the co-pilot's seat, Chuck began checking his instruments and navigation figures, then spreading his charts on his lap.

"No good Sam" he confessed after five minutes. "By all rights we should be sitting right on top of Chengtu but nothing adds up. We're nowhere near it."

"Well there's some sunlight up ahead. Maybe we'll get some idea from that" pointed Sam.

Minutes later they flew out from under the cloud and realised something was desperately amiss.

"Chuck that sun" commented Sam "Looks to me to be in the wrong place."

"You don't have to tell me that" replied Ashman slapping the control panel compass "We're flying east. The compass must have gone all haywire. I'm gonna turn us around and hope for the best. We're in the middle of Jap territory."

"We ok for gas?" asked Sam.

"Yah" replied Ashman "Checked at Sian. Both main tanks are almost dry so we'll be switching over soon."

Within ten minutes of making the turn they were back with the cloud but Chuck kept below it. Not trusting to his compass, he flew what he hoped was west by eying the ground.

When the starboard engine began to splutter Chuck switched it over to the reserve spare tank only for the engine to cough twice and stop dead. Trying everything he had learned in his years of flying the engine still wouldn't start.

"I'm increasing the revs on the port engine to keep us in the air" he called to Sam. "Any idea on what's wrong? The gauge is showin' full."

Sam could only shake his head.

Flying over a farmland plain Chuck could see ahead a range of high hills extending into the clouds. Turning to fly parallel with them the port engine now began to splutter. Chuck quickly switched to its second fuel supply but as did the starboard engine the port also only coughed for a moment before stopping completely.

"Strap in tight Sam. We're gonna go in" shouted Ashman glancing at the altimeter on the instrument panel and seeing it read less than five hundred feet.

Doing his best to keep the stalled aircraft on the glide, passing over a cluster of shacks with trees around, then a rise with a clump of more tress. Chuck could see a track to his right that led to a walled town on the lower hill slope. But could hardly take it in before the aircraft lost its last few feet of sky.

"Brace Sam! Brace!"

--oOo--

As the sun raised unseen, deeply hidden behind dense dark clouds hanging low over Sweet Water, Mark Ellison, Ann Lin and the District Committee stood in silence, in a chilling winter wind on the village wall. Before them in the field and on the river bank across the track hundreds of people were desperately working to conceal all evidence that a large two engine transport plane had crash landed in their district.

The previous afternoon when the aircraft had silently glided out of the sky to plunge, skidding across a field into the riverside trees just a few hundred yards from the walls of Sweet Water, only a handful of people saw it, but hundreds heart it crash in the trees.

Everyone left what they were involved in and rushed across the track to gather around the downed plane. Mark and Ann were among the first to arrive quickly organising the rescue of the two pilots. Opening the cargo door Mark and four of his 4 Company soldiers scrambled over the freight in the cargo bay to get up to the cabin where the two crew members sat strapped in their seats, either dead or unconscious. The doubt of this was set right when Ruth McRae arrived hauling herself across loose cargo. With great difficulty she saw both men removed from their seats placed on makeshift bamboo stretchers then into a pony cart to be hurried off to Ruth's clinic.

Once the injured had been taken away Mark and the Committee turned to the problem of the plane. With Commander Han away accompanying Captain Ying on a raid on the railway command of the District was in Ellison's hands. All present knew that this aircraft presented high danger to everyone in and around Sweet Water. If the Japanese learned of the crash they would send a strong column and if the crew were not found, severe reprisals would be taken. Somehow the aircraft had to be hidden and all trace of its arrival removed.

A tall order for as well as a deep scar dug through a field over two hundred yards long where the plane had slid, the tail assembly had broken off and was sitting out in the open. The body had come to rest with its nose buried in bamboo only ten yards or so from the river's edge and brought to a stop by three stout trees one of which on impact had caused the starboard wing to fold back along the body of the plane.

With winter's darkness tumbling upon them from inky clouds Mark and the Committee agreed to address this threat they would have to marshal every spare working pair of hands in the district. Throughout the night from every corner of the district parties could be seen converging on Sweet Water. To light their way bamboo torches, waving back and forth to keep the flame lit, marked their progress. By more torchlight they were set to work. The village Blacksmith with limited tooling was tasked to dismantle the aircraft's tail which, so done, the pieces were dragged away by pony and hid. The soil displaced by the impact and slide of the plane was replaced, levelled and re-seeded, for, like the rest of the field, an early spring growth.

The fuselage and wings of the aircraft were the main worry for Mark and the Committee. Their removal was impossible. The only answer was camouflage which presented at first, with the plane's shiny surfaces, an insoluble challenge. This was overcome to a great degree by planting a garden of winter grass on all level surfaces and thick mud on the rest. With live bamboo dug up and planted in deep banks all around the wrecked aircraft its concealment was near perfect.

As the day's grey daylight showed everyone on the wall success of the district's night's labour, they left it to stand on the track thanking everyone passing for answering their desperate call. It was several hundred who were returning to their villages and farms, men, women and children, some leading oxen, some pony carts, some pushing wheelbarrows, most with a farm tool over their shoulder and all smiling.

--oOo--

Chuck Ashman didn't feel too good when he regained consciousness. He was in pain just about all over but mainly in his lower left leg. He was in a bed, in a gloomy room with other beds; to him it appeared to be a dormitory. His head rested not on a pillow but something harder. His covering was a quilt that rose as a high bump above his left leg that felt heavy and restricted. Above his waist he seemed to be wearing a shirt, below, nothing. It was cold, his face and ears could feel it.

He looked for other life but seeing none lay suffering his pain.

Without the least forewarning Chuck suddenly found a Chinese face looking down on him.

"Ah Mister Ashman you're awake. How are you feeling?" It was a young woman and she was speaking to him in English.

"Pretty awful" he replied, "Who are you?"

"Just consider me your nurse for the time being" she answered, adding "I'll just fetch the doctor."

She was gone ten minutes returning to his surprise, with a woman, blond, in her late twenties.

"Good morning Charles" she greeted him. "I'm Doctor McRae."

"Good to see ya Doc" he replied "But tell me, how come everyone knows my name?"

"Your California driving licence" replied Ruth.

"Oh! Yah! My wallet" said chuck, nodding his head.

"How do you feel?" asked Ruth, tightening the robe she wore.

"Pretty sore all over but mostly the left leg" answered Ashman.

"Yes you would be" agreed Ruth. "Your whole body is badly bruised but is there any other real pain like you feel from the leg?"

"No. That's enough pain for anyone" replied the American. "What's up with it?"

"It's broken" answered Ruth "But is seated in place. On examination I could find no loose splinters so I set the leg and have splints immobilizing it from ankle to thigh. I'm afraid you'll have to remain this way for at least a month."

"A month!" repeated Chuck rolling his eye to the ceiling then asking, "What about Sam. What shape's he in?"

"Your other pilot?" asked Ruth unnecessarily but only to give herself a few seconds to formulate a proper reply.

"Yah! Yah! Sam. Sam Sambrook!" confirmed Ashman.

"I'm sorry Charles. We couldn't save him. A tree branch had come through into the cabin. It crushed the right side of his ribcage and punctured his lung."

Ashman took in the Doctor's words lying silently for some moments before speaking. "Chuck. Call me Chuck. Charles is what my grandmother called me."

--oOo--

On Han returning the following day he was taken by Mark to inspect the crashed aircraft and its camouflage. Satisfied the best to hide it had been done he suggested to Mister Fan that the village children be given the chore of maintaining its concealment. Then visiting Chuck Ashman, he could enlighten him with little more than what Ruth McRae had already pointed out. He was behind enemy lines and until his leg mended he would be remaining with them.

Late one afternoon, some days later they received another visit from Major Yeh and a party of his men but it was not they who surprised them but whom they had brought with them.

Following into Han's office room with just the trace of a grin was Loyal Monkey accompanied by Warrant Officer Ch'e and Joyous Trust, his ever present bugle strung under his arm. Mark sitting in one corner leapt to his feet and embraced Loyal Monkey with a crushing hug. Blind Ox approached the Helmsman to give a little bow before shaking his hand warmly. Stands Erect stood behind his desk not a smile showing on his face but his heart was glowing with delight.

Yeh had come to discuss with Han the results of his attacks on the railway but was first taken by Fallen Dove to the site of Ashman's crash then on to the clinic to see him. While gone, Loyal Monkey relayed to the others the events that occurred regarding Pointed Sword's fate after they had made their escape.

After General Heng's betrayal his army and Pointed Sword were told they were to become part of an auxiliary force under Japanese authority, responsible for policing areas they held in occupation. The term used for them in Free China was 'Puppet Soldiers'. Colonel Pai refused to order his men to do so and for this he was made an example of. The Japanese ordered his death so General Heng complied. Having Pai strangled but not to death right away. Upon slipping into unconsciousness he would be revived and strangled again then revived and strangled again. Pai survived for thirty hours before dying.

As Loyal Monkey described this, Joyous Trust turned his face to the wall while Ch'e stared at the floor. On finishing, Stands Erect and Blind Ox could say nothing. Mark stood to stare out the window.

Loyal Monkey went on speaking of how the three of them waited their chance and fled, spending almost three months seeking them out.

"So, Pointed Sword is no more" declared Mark turning angrily from the window.

"Not true White Thunder" Han, his elbows on the table, hands clasped in front of his face, raised his head, "Pointed Sword is here".

--oOo--

January and February were harsh months in North Anhwei Province in 1941. Fierce winds and icy cold brought snow that remained for weeks limiting the villagers and farmers in their work. Limiting Pointed Sword in theirs as well. With snow there was nowhere to hide and when moving trails were left. With relief, Yeh forbad attacks on the railway but Han refused to relax vigil of the District's borders.

The three new arrivals were quickly found employment, Loyal Monkey as Battalion Adjutant, Ch'e as Han's Warrant Officer and Joyous Trust as a second runner. Loyal Monkey also built up a friendship with Chuck Ashman, sitting at his bedside talking for long periods. Chuck's leg was taking longer to heal than Ruth had first hoped so Chuck was grateful for someone else who could speak English willing to aid the hours in slipping by.

Mark and Ann still met for their talks but indoors now and sipping warm drinks. Once Ann broke the rule of Nanking to remind Mark of his schoolboy infatuation of Frances. Mark denying it was any such thing, set Ann to giggling, telling him how the servants teased Frances endlessly over it.

With little work to do during these winter months Ann set the villagers of Sweet Water to digging concealed caves and tunnels. If the Japanese come in force everyone would try to run into the hills. But should they be surprised she wanted somewhere where the villagers could hide themselves until it again became safe. Each day large numbers, Han's soldiers as well, would carve away at the hard clay of the hills behind Sweet Water. The spoil would be removed by wheelbarrow or basket and spread on tracks or pathways all growing in width day by day.

At the end of March Major Yeh returned. The Japanese had begun increasing their use of the railway once again and requested Pointed Sword's attacks be renewed.

CHAPTER 22
Winds follow the tiger
Chinese Proverb

It was only when the pony nuzzled his arm for the second time that Chuck Ashman switched his thoughts back to the job he was in the middle of doing, feeding and watering the animal. Having left the pony to eat his evening oats from one bucket he had just returned from the farm well where he had filled a second for him to drink from. Placing the bucket down, Chuck patted and scratched its neck as the pony dipped its head to drink. While the American resumed observing the small cluster of farm peasants waiting under a thatched awning in a farm courtyard for Ruth McRae to administer to them.

It was the first week in April and the district was alive with green birth.

For two months Chuck had been confined to the clinic, the first two weeks a nightmare of pain. He very soon after the crash came to realise how fortunate he was in doing so in the vicinity of Sweet Water. Or as Mark Ellison had put it, 'God guided you into the arms of the only doctor for a thousand miles' and grateful he was for her treatment. But as he began to learn more of how the clinic operated it became bright as day obvious that she was a doctor hardly more than in name only. She had few surgical instruments and her drugs and medicines were of local origin or what she produced herself. A fact discovered at the height of his pain when she had recommended he take one of her home-made opium pills. "Christ" he had said to her, "It was opium that got me into this" but he had taken her pill, and others.

It was Mark Ellison who had put him in the picture over the cause of the airplane's engines failing. The second line fuel tanks he had found were filled with water. Then only a few weeks ago when he was once again able to walk. He visited the crash and with Sam's tools took the panel fitted over the compass off to find a magnet wedged behind, that had upset the compass setting. It was clear to Chuck that the owners of the dope had taken their revenge in full. If only there were radio transmitters at the airfields that aircraft could pick up a beam from and fly in on like he had done so many times in the States. The plane would now still be whole and Sam alive. But this was China at war. The Japanese bombers would use the same beams so they could carry out their raids more easily.

Seeing Ruth's surgery had dwindled to just a few he placed a rope around his pony's neck and secured it to a peg driven in the ground which would allow the animal to graze through the night. Collecting their bed rolls from the cart he set off to join the doctor. Soon they would be invited into a house to eat and sleep.

Ruth had been doing this since first arriving in the district, travelling to all its corners to attend to the sick and ailing. Twice a week she would set off for one or two days, visiting, over a month, most farms and villages. Ashman, once free of his bed and keen to exercise the leg, volunteered to accompany her. Adding that being farm raised he would handle the pony and cart. In being honest with himself the offer wasn't wholly in aiding the recovery of the leg. Over the last months he found he missed her when she wasn't near.

After their meal with the family both decided to watch the sunset sitting on stools beside the village duck pond.

"How did you come to take up flying Chuck?" asked Ruth as the sky reddened and the ever attentive circle of curious children had left for their homes for the night.

"When I was fifteen I bought a plane for ten dollars" answered Ashman still watching the sky as it turned a deepening red.

"Ten dollars!" exclaimed Ruth in a mild tone.

"Yah! It was all the money I earned that summer" recounted Chuck. "Bought it at auction. An old crate from the First World War. Got shown how to turn the engine on, how to steer the thing, then drove it home."

"Drove it? From where? How?" asked Ruth, intrigued.

"From the airfield to the farm. About ten miles. This was Kansas. Across country, through a few yards and down some roads but I got her home" explained Chuck.

"And your mum and dad; what did they say?" asked Ruth.

"Mom had a fit about the ten dollars but dad just laughed" replied the American. "Kept it in an old barn. Took it out every day. Ran it around the fields. Pretty soon I had the tail up then I was taking off and landing. And that's how I learned to fly. Now what about you. How come you took up being a doc?"

For the next ten minutes, Ruth told him about growing up in Vancouver and her dream, despite being a woman, of becoming a doctor. Ashman listened but on her finishing asked only one question, "So after all that hard work, how come you're not looking for a way outta this place?"

Thinking for just a moment Ruth took her eye from the sunset's last glow to reply "Because the people have got no-one else!"

--oOo--

Standing on the raise where the track overlooked the hutment to the east of Sweet Water, Ann Lin was the first to see their approach. "There. They're coming."

She, Ellison and Still Willows were waiting for the return of the latest raiding party that had gone north to the railway. In the fall they had had success, causing two wrecks and a derailment but since resuming their attacks in March their only achievement was one derailing. However, the runner Han had sent to warn of their return told them of a more worthwhile result to report. This was reflected in the smiles on the soldiers' faces as they passed on to be given a late afternoon meal at Slow Boil's trackside kitchen. And confirmed by 2 Company's Commander Ao now promoted to Captain by Han.

Ellison saluted his Commander who had accompanied the raid, when he arrived and listened as he gave a brief account. They had weakened a small bridge which a goods train collapsed through. A number of Japanese riding as guards were killed and loot taken, the rolling stock burned. Han showing his pleasure at their success with a constant smile.

It was May now and the district was alive in preparation for the year's first harvest in June. Sickles and broad-bladed knives for cutting the crop stocks were sharpened. Threshing grounds were inspected for hardness and the threshing rollers tested. With fuel sheds almost empty of the grain stocks used to burn in kitchen stoves, spring grass was being cut, dried and used instead. Sacking and earthen ware storage urns were readied for receiving grain. All these preparative events for the district reaching back tens of centuries.

Chuck Ashman, on his trips accompanying Ruth, witnessed all this and although primitive to him, as a farm boy, he understood it all. While confined to his clinic bed, there were many sounds that had taken him back to his childhood. The dawn rooster's crow, pigs squealing and dogs barking at all times of day and night. The village watchman though, at night, beating his gong and crying out, he found alien to it all.

Sitting in his favourite spot, the clinic veranda, like Ruth, having fallen in love with the view, Chuck was once again pondering his future. Immobile for two months, now he was up and fit, this was hourly on his mind. Commander Han had made the proposal that when he felt ready to attempt the journey he would contact Major Yeh who would make arrangements to spirit him through the Japanese lines. But Chuck wasn't ready and the reason was because of a blond haired doctor he had falling in love with.

Interrupted in his thoughts Ashman heard Still Willows calling to the duty nurse. She was making her way up from the track followed by two soldiers who looked to be suffering wounds and another on a stretcher being carried by four others. These wounded were from Captain Ao's railway raiding party and with Ruth called away to a birth in the town Still Willows was taking charge.

Normally Chuck would have given a hand but was prevented by Mark Ellison and Loyal Monkey.

"Chuck" began Ellison, once the three were seated on the veranda, "As you can see we have taken a number of casualties".

"Tangling with that railroad again?" surmised Chuck.

"Which is why we've come to you" informed Loyal Monkey. "We were wondering if, in what's left of that wreck of yours there is anything that would help us set off a time bomb."

"You mean like a clock?" asked Ashman.

"Or something like it" added Mark.

"Well there's an electric one on the instrument panel but if it's survived the winter it will need a battery to work" replied the American.

Collecting Sam Sambrook's bag of tools they walked to the crash site where Chuck removed the clock. Finding it in a lightly rusted state he handed it to the two men who then went off into the village to see if it could be cleaned up and made workable.

Ashman remained at the aircraft to continue with a job he was asked to do by Ruth. She wanted, very badly, to build a miniature water distillation plant that would give her a supply of saline solution which she could use to replace body fluid lost by vomiting and diarrhoea which often led to dehydration and death. Towards that end Chuck was stripping both engines of all its copper piping. With no children in sight he also spent ten minutes cleaning Sam's Winchester rifle.

Once well enough, on asking for the return of his pistol, Mark Ellison had informed him, the weapon was now in other hands and being put to good use. So Chuck, who knows, just in case, was keeping the concealed rifle up his sleeve.

--oOo--

It was early June when the rumours and 'bamboo wireless' tales began to take on a degree of truth. From late spring on, traders, peddlers and artisans visiting the district had talked of soldiers gathering in towns to the north and east. Little Feet and his scouts paid nightly calls to the areas mentioned but could only confirm the presence of 'puppet soldiers' not Japanese.

Then when the harvest of the fields was only half completed alarming stories were being spread of raids on villages and their harvest's taken. But these were as yet happening many miles away and only to villages less than a day's march from the larger towns and still only involving 'puppet soldiers'. Little Feet was told he and his scouts were to keep a watch on these activities and send a report to Commander Han daily.

It was at this crucial moment that they arrived. Six, dressed as farmers but armed with pistols, identifying themselves as envoys from Nationalist Army Headquarters. They were escorted to Commander Han's office by Captain Ying. He brought them from Plum Blossoms himself because he was ordered to do so by the Commander of the party, a Lieutenant Colonel Lang.

After their introductions only four remained in the office, Han, Loyal Monkey, Lang and Lang's Second-in-Command, Major Pei. The others of the Colonel's party, a Warrant Officer and three Sergeants were taken to the local tea house by Warrant Officer Ch'e.

With Stands Erect sat at his office table and the two arrivals opposite him, Loyal Monkey moved his chair to a wall, to one side and slightly behind the new officers. This was to keep directly out of their line of sight, to lessen the chance of them remembering him for he had been in their presence before.

In appearance, they were of two opposites; Lang was of slight build with sunken cheek-bones and thin moustache while Pei was a coarse-faced brute, taller and heavier in body. Lang began informing Han the reason for their arrival in a blunt forthright tone.

"Commander Han, we at Headquarters, through our intelligence sources, heard of you and your Battalion's presence here and the reason for it. A most worthy endeavour. And General Heng will pay for his treachery. However, it is felt that you in your new role as guerrilla fighters here is not being put to a proper use."

"Honoured Colonel" spoke up Han as Lang paused for a moment, "It may not be known at Headquarters that we are working with our allies to the south in defence of this District and attacking an enemy railway to the north with much success."

"Yes, we know of those allies and they are not to be trusted" replied Lang coldly.

"They have not shown themselves to be so in the past" defended Han with honest words.

At that Loyal Monkey spoke up "Honoured Colonel, what Commander Han says is correct but they also keep themselves at such a distance we are unable to gain a true judgement of them."

"Yes. Understandable" replied Lang accepting the adjutant's explanation for his Commander's trust. "But now you must begin to make arrangements to leave this place.

"Leave. Honoured Colonel. Where?" Han's words of response came calmly but his heart raced.

"West" replied Lang. "Arrangements are being made for you to occupy a base where you will be able to give assistance to our own forces. In three days time we will leave. Have your men ready."

"To leave the district in three days time may be too soon, Honoured Colonel. There is the harvest to consider" explained Han innocently, "Perhaps if arrangements could be made with the District Committee…"

"Harvest" snapped Lang, "That is farmers' work. Committee! I don't discuss with peasants and shopkeepers. You are a soldier Commander Han. You are to obey orders!"

"Yes Honoured Colonel but…" began Han in an attempt to explain he only wished to ensure their leaving would be a co-ordinated one. But Loyal Monkey prevented him by speaking up.

"Honoured Colonel. I as Adjutant have prepared a plan for leaving that Commander Han had asked me to provide for him during our winter months. This unworthy self has completed the plan but forgotten to show to my Commander. This I will now do. Right away!"

"Good! Good! responded Lang. Now show me to your best Inn. Tomorrow Commander Han I will speak to your officers."

Throughout their discussion Major Pei had not contributed one word. This, however, did not surprise Loyal Monkey for he knew that Pei's qualities were not of articulate conversation but brute cruelty.

That evening as word spread, anxiety accompanied it. For most of a year Pointed Sword had kept the district safe, shared its labour, becoming for some like family member and more, there had been seven weddings. While Loyal Monkey entertained Lang and Pei at their Inn, a meeting gathered at the clinic.

Han, Mark, Chuck Ashman, Ruth, Still Willows, the District Committee, with Slow Boil squatting in a corner of the veranda where the rest sat.

"This doesn't sound like a good thing to do" voiced Ellison after Han had explained what Lang had told them their orders were.

"Your going would not be the best for the District. We have come to depend on you for so many things" voiced Mister Fan sadly.

"This Colonel" put in Ruth, "He's not at all happy about us being on handshaking terms with Major Yeh's boys."

"He is Nationalist Army. They hate all communists" declared Ann Lin flatly. "It was Chiang Kia-shek's own troops who treacherously attacked the communist New Fourth Army as they followed Chiang's orders this winter in crossing the Yangtze to occupy new lands. Now this. You're being taken to an unknown place, west. It does not sound as if a safe welcome has been arranged."

"Does this affect the clinic?" Chuck asked Ruth.

"No" she replied "But we will miss the help of Still Willows and young Bright Joy." This she repeated in Chinese to inform Han of what Chuck asked.

"Do you think if we put forward all the reasons for remaining here that Colonel Lang would see that it was the right thing to do and allow us to stay?" ventured Ellison.

Loyal Monkey advised against that. Said we should all obey the order" replied Han.

"He must have a reason. Soon I hope he will tell us" stated Mark.

"Major Yeh. He should know of this." Han looked to the Committee.

None replied. Then Ann spoke "Someone has already been sent. We believed it to be of utmost importance."

Han nodded then addressed Slow Boil. "Mister Kun, we would be most grateful to hear your thoughts on this."

On his haunches forearms resting on his knees Slow Boil looked up, "Here Pointed Sword has fed well. Are we now to go where it is dust for rice and mud for soup?"

CHAPTER 23
A General good at commanding troops is like one sitting in a leaking boat or lying under a burning roof. For there is no time for the wise to offer counsel.
Wu Ch'I 430-381BC

On the evening of the second day Little Feet brought the report himself of the enemy he was keeping close watch on to the north east. The forces were still only puppet but were being led by Japanese officers and NCOs and more disquieting was his new findings that they now possessed vehicle transport and had moved up to the district's very edge.

Commander Han took Little Feet to the Inn to repeat his report to Lang. Then asked the colonel on the grounds that as it appears an attack to plunder the district was about to take effect would he postpone Pointed Sword's move until it had been dealt with. Although putting forward strong reasons Lang rejected them all reminding Han that the orders were for he and his men to leave tomorrow morning.

Han left the Inn bitterly angry and not just because of Lang's refusal. From the very moment he and his men had taken up residence in the village, Han had heard and seen enough of them to give him grave doubts of placing Pointed Sword's future in his hands. Rudeness to the innkeeper and his family, loutish behaviour, drunkenness and a demand for flower girls which the district had never had.

Little Feet asked to be allowed to return to the Inn saying he would soon solve the problem with Lang. But Han rejected any thought of the action telling him to rejoin his scouts. Dealing with Lang in that way could prove a difficulty for Loyal Monkey had informed Han and Ellison the first morning after Lang's arrival of their true identity. They were from Army Headquarters yes, but were not true soldiers. They were under command of Tai Li, Chiang Kai-shek's chief Kuomintang Intelligence Officer. Their role was to seek out traitors, collaborators with the enemy, communists and those who support communists. Chiang had modelled them on Hitler's Nazi Gestapo and were just as ruthless.

With the district warned of the possibility of an attack, through the night villagers and farmers began to trek away from their homes and into the hills to the north. From all the southern points, along the river track from Parrot Nest, from High Hawk and across the broad plain between, torchlight processions wove they way towards the safe sheltering of the hills.

At dawn Pointed Sword was drawn up by companies on the track below the clinic. Just a glance told Han there was less numbers than there should be but he expected this. The Company Commanders had many requests from their men to stay and see the families they had lived with for so long were protected. Stands Erect didn't give his permission but neither did he refuse the appeal. He should have had over six hundred soldiers before him. In truth there was perhaps five hundred. Among them four wives, bundles on their shoulders, two showing pregnancy. Little Feet had said his goodbyes the night before. He was staying with his scouts not because they had pleaded for him to do so but because he knew his place was with them.

Pointed Sword waited in their ranks for the order to move off, sullen, angry and ashamed. As groups of peasants passed by on their way to the hills the soldiers kept their eyes to the ground.

Chuck Ashman stood with Mark Ellison both prepared to leave and both desperate to stay, each because of a woman. Chuck on being told by Lang that he would see to his safe conduct through the line into Free China told Ruth he would rather stay but she insisted he go. Privately, with reluctance, for she would miss him on her tours, his humour and their talks of home. For she had become enchanted with his quite Kansas manner and found she had to admit that she had fallen in love with him also. Chuck admitting his love had kissed her goodbye vowing to return. And Ruth had returned his kiss with tears forming in the corners of her eyes as he turned to leave.

In Mark's case falling in love with Ann Lin was something that took him by surprise. To begin with their talks together had no significance other than friendly conversations. Not until he mentioned Tender Mist did he notice the sparkle of delight that washed the expressions of seriousness from her face while asking endless questions of him about her. This brightness he found was also with her when he visited her during school lessons with the village children. It was in the late fall while on patrol in the hills above Sweet Water that Mark discovered he was in love with Ann, he began to find he could think of nothing else but her.

"Are you present and ready to march?" asked Lang on arriving with his party.

Han didn't reply, one of Little Feet's scouts had just reported to him that vehicles were approaching from the east and his commander was waiting to ambush them at the hutments.

"Yes! Honoured Colonel" barked out Loyal Monkey. "Good! Then we go!" replied Lang.

Dawn had been with them for an hour as the Battalion set out up into the hills. Lang said they were going west but firstly they must cross the hills. In single file but close together they climbed high up the slopes while faintly below them they could hear rifle fire. Higher they climbed constantly glancing over their shoulders to the plain below.

An hour after they had begun the battalion halted at the crest of the first high ridge. From there they would drop down into a valley that would lead them through the hill chain to the low country further on. In leaving the ridge they would never see their district again. As the Battalion closed up at the ridge top all turned about to observe the land they were leaving. The sound of firing could still be heard.

Someone not there was Chuck Ashman. For the first twenty minutes of the climb, he had repeatedly stopped to look back. Finally turning to Mark Ellison in a voice firm with emotion he declared "Mark, I can't come with you. I'm in love with Ruth and I'll not leave her. Not now".

Then, with a quick handshake, he was gone, racing downhill.

Suddenly from the left where those of the battalion had spread a cry was heard and men were gesturing. Where the ridge dropped away to the east figures were seen emerging out of a dry featureless gully. Han quickly reaching for his binoculars focussed them on this gully.

With everyone around him falling silent he passed them to Loyal Monkey. "Dwarfs."

After uttering this one word he began studying the terrain around the gully exit.

"Two or three Companies" announced Loyal Monkey "With a supply train following, mules. They've come to fight. Fight us. And perhaps stay."

"We must have caused them more trouble on their railway than we thought" proposed Mark Ellison. Without being called all four Company Commanders had closed around Han.

"They are going for Sweet Water" informed Loyal Monkey handing back the binoculars.

Taking them, Han swept the hills behind Sweet Water and the ground beyond where the Japanese had emerged from. Then lowering the glasses he again studied the ground before him. From behind, Still Willows came up to his side and with one hand took hold of an equipment strap under his armpit. Mark had seen her do this twice before the last at the Crane's Neck when Han had made the decision to escape. Her meaning was clear, 'where you lead we will follow'. Before he had shown no indication of knowing she was there but this time he reached across and squeezed her hand. Then, with a controlled shout…

"Captain Ao! Take your Company and capture the Dwarf's supply mules. Captain Lin take your Company and join Sergeant Ho's scouts. The puppets are to be held away from Sweet Water. Captain Tsun! Captain Ying! We must get to Sweet Water before the Dwarfs."

There was no need for this to be repeated to the soldiers, the whole hillside heard Han's orders.

With the Companies in full flight back down the hillside Lang, who with his party had stood well away from the main body of troops, appeared at Loyal Monkey's side. "Captain Teng. What is this?" Why are they leaving?"

"They are disobeying your orders Honoured Colonel" answered the Captain loudly. "I have told Commander Han he is acting unwisely but he has chosen to ignore my warning."

"Fools! Fools! Barked Lang at the soldiers as they streamed past him. "Stop them" Stop them Captain!"

"It is too late Honoured Colonel" replied Teng. "They have all gone mad. We must hurry now to get away before the Dwarf devils become aware that you are here. Those rabbit heads if captured would tell all."

Lang, in a storming rage, didn't speak. Left staring at the backs of Pointed Sword.

"Captain Teng is right Colonel we must leave now." Major Pei took Lang's arm and guided him away.

Off the ridge they made their way down in single file, Pei leading with Lang behind, then the three sergeants, the warrant officer and Loyal Monkey. At the foot of the ridge they entered a narrow defile with high banks each side. This was where the Captain chose to act. Slipping out of his pack he dropped his sword scabbard taking up the sword in his right hand, his pistol in his left.

The Warrant Officer with his head half hanging from his shoulders made not a sound as he collapsed to the gravel. The sergeant to his front also dropped without uttering a cry. But the second sergeant must have heard him disturb the stones on falling for he turned his head only to see Teng rushing at him, a levelled pistol pointed at his face. The last thing he saw. The third sergeant spinning around at the noise of the pistol shot had no time to comprehend what was happening before receiving two of the Captain's bullets in his chest. Lang stood speechless and confused for a vital moment also trying to fathom the source and reason of the shooting only yards behind him. By the time he began reaching for his pistol Loyal Monkey had already fired a bullet into his stomach from five feet. Pei had his pistol out on hearing the first shot but was also at a loss as to what was happening although crouched and ready. On seeing Loyal Monkey shoot Lang he took aim snapping off two quick shots. Teng was only fifteen feet from him but both bullets missed. With the Captain's pistol now aimed at him Pei fired twice more then leapt up to bolt. One shot burned a groove along Teng's left cheek while the other struck his leather waist belt a glancing blow at his right waist, but his shots didn't miss. One in Pai's hip the other in his back. Advancing on the Major as he stumbled to the ground Teng, pistol held at the aim, fired twice more as Pei rolled on his side cursing the Captain with foul abuse. Attempting to raise his pistol he died with the curse half uttered.

Returning to Lang, who was curled on the ground clutching his stomach, Teng kicked his hands away before standing on one arm and removing the Colonel's pistol. Stamping his other foot on Lang's stomach he shouted "Where is Black Blaze?"

After a scream of pain from the Captain's stomp, Lang just moaned.

"Where is Black Blaze?" screamed Teng again stamping twice more on the Colonel's wound.

"Whore dog" cursed Lang.

Placing the point of his sword in Lang's left eye Teng pressed the point down then twisted the blade.

Lang screamed, trying to pull the sword blade from his eye with his free hand.

"You are going to die Colonel and unless you tell me where Black Blaze is you will suffer every moment until you do". Teng moved his blade to Lang's right eye.

"Shanghai! Shanghai!" cried the Colonel. "Now go to him dung worm. He will welcome you."

Loyal Monkey removed his sword from Lang's eye, placed the point over his heart and drove down.

Teng spent the next half hour collecting from the bodies all papers, documents, identification, money and arms then left their corpses bodies to rot.

--oOo--

Chuck Ashman, scrambling down a banking, raced across the track into the field beside the river where his former airplane lay concealed. Pulling himself through the bamboo and into the aircraft he hurried to the cabin where he snatched out the Winchester from its hidden compartment and emptied boxes of 3030 calibre ammunition into his pockets.

Out on the track firing could be heard to the east but was ignored by him. He was only concerned in finding Ruth. The clinic he knew was abandoned, the patients she had told him, who could not travel deep into the hills, she was planning to hide in one of the tunnels Ann had had dug that winter and spring.

He was aware where most of these lay and made his way to the site of the nearest to the clinic. Up a stream bed where he knew the entrance was screened from sight by tumbles of grass above the stream. Twice he passed it until he was beckoned by one of Pointed Sword's stay-behinds, knelt in its entrance. Inside the tunnel its blackness barely kept at bay by lighted wicks floating in saucers of vegetable oil, he found one of Ruth's nurses and with the limited Chinese he had picked up, asked for the doctor's whereabouts.

"Where Sunflower?" Chuck pleaded, using the doctor's Chinese nickname.

"Clinic! Clinic! She go for medicine."

Chuck turned back for the entrance to race down the stream.

At the clinic Ruth was stood at a bamboo cupboard filling a shoulder bag with medicines telling herself what she thought of herself for forgetting to bring them and hour earlier. Slipping the cloth strap over her shoulder she heard someone enter the clinic from the main entrance.

Stepping out of the small medicine room, Ruth, thinking it was someone come for attention walked a few steps into the clinic's one room ward then froze.

Two Japanese soldiers holding rifles with long bayonets were staring at her.

Ruth, in trousers and jacket but her shoulder length blond hair in full sight, must have had the two soldiers mesmerised for an instant. Recovering from the encounter before then, in a rush of panic, she spun around in a run. Making for the rear entrance she heard the two soldiers shouting to each other then a shot. Reaching the short hallway that ran through her living quarters Ruth burst out the rear doorway into the path of Chuck Ashman. Before she could shout a warning he had pushed her to the ground, in the same movement swinging his rifle into the aim at one of the Japanese who had entered the hallway and was raising his own rifle. Levering another round into the rifle's chamber he fired again this time at the second soldier as he stumbled over the first.

"Chuck! Oh Chuck!" was all Ruth could say as Ashman, with one hand, pulled her up.

"Quick! We got to move fast. Back to the tunnel" snapped Chuck watching the hallway, rifle pointed.

"No Chuck! Look!" cried Ruth, pointing as she discarded the shoulder bag.

Turning about Ashman could see more Japanese soldiers climbing up onto the footpath that led towards the stream.

"Into the clinic Ruth" ordered the American going first his rifle trained on the two Japanese lying in the hall. One still, the other clutching a throat wound that gushed blood.

"In here Chuck" called Ruth from behind stepping through a door.

It was Ruth's bedroom and she had gone straight to the window to open it. Struggling to do so Ashman pushed her aside to rip the oiled paper from its frame then lifting Ruth heaved her through onto the veranda outside. With a steep drop on the other side of the veranda railing they ran along it to the far end where perhaps they could find escape across the district track and along the river bank.

With Ruth leading they reached the end of the building just as a party of Japanese arrived rushing up the pathway. As Ruth shouted Chuck's name, a shot was fired and she spun to the floor of the veranda. Chuck arrived over her to stand firing back until he too dropped at her side. His last act was to reach out and grasp Ruth's hand before a frenzy of Japanese bayonets were plunged into them with cries and laughter.

--oOo--

It was only minutes later that Mark Ellison was stood over the two gashed and bloody bodies, seething with rage. In his mind, at his feet lay two of the worlds nicest and she a doctor.

Hearing the shooting on passing the clinic, Mark had swept his Company through towards the district track but missed his friends' killers who had moved on. Blind Ox had the two bodies quickly taken inside the clinic then waited for Mark's orders. He gave none, turning to hurry down to the district track then led his men along it east.

Just before reaching the raise that overlooked the hutments Ellison took his Company up into the scrub on the hillside then east again. Using this cover they worked their way into the stream bed that ran down to the hutments pausing only long enough to brief Sincere Flute on what his plan of action was to be. Then, sending the young soldier off to find Little Feet and explain the details to him, Mark again led his Company away. As he came opposite where the road and stream turned south-east Ellison halted his line of men to call his Platoon Commanders to him.

As they had passed the hutments Mark could see Little Feet was, for the moment, holding the puppets at bay. He had felled two trees across the track that prevented the lorries from moving further on while his scouts were sniping anyone bold enough to act aggressively. This lack of aggression Ellison well understood. Puppets were Chinese militia in the pay of the Japanese. Most Chinese didn't join to risk their lives, most put on the uniform to avoid starvation. They performed well enough when guarding in peaceful areas or bullying farmers and depriving them of their crops but to face an armed enemy was in most circumstances beyond their will. Knowing this, Mark briefed his Platoon Commanders for a short decisive attack that would conserve ammunition; most of his men had no more than sixty rounds, while driving the puppets away. For the Japanese plan of attack seemed to be to use the puppets as a diversion while they mounted the main attack from the hills.

Having given out his orders to his Platoon Commanders, they each guided their Platoons away to take up positions.

Lieutenants Chao's and Hai's First and Second Platoons were to remain in the scrub above the stream where it bent south-east following the track. Lieutenant Miao with his third Platoon remained west of the bend where they could fire down on those puppet troops who were being made to engage Little Feet's scouts at the hutment roadblock. Lieutenant T'a's Fourth Platoon had the furthest to go, three to four hundred yards south-east to take up an ambush position in the cover of the stream bed.

The numbers they were facing, Mark judged, was not far short of two hundred. He had with him just over a hundred. This imbalance was not a worry to him. He knew the puppets would only put up a fight if driven to by their Japanese masters. To avoid this he had ordered that the Japanese officers and NCO's were the ones that his men must first place in their rifle sights.

As for the enemy he was about to engage Mark could see their attack was being conducted half-heartedly. Perhaps this was part of the overall plan but a number of Japanese could be seen just to the rear of the roadblock waving swords and exhorting their charges to advance nearer their enemy. These Japanese were clearly distinguishable in their khaki brown uniforms from the puppet troops, who wore a pale yellow.

Of the fighting area, Little Feet's young scouts had been able, so far, to keep it contained. At the fallen trees two of the enemy's lorries were sat abandoned, several yellow-clad bodies laid around them. Of the other six lorries they were well back sitting on the roadside where Mark's First and Second Platoons were creeping into position. There most of the puppets were sheltering away from the bullets and out of reach of their Japanese employers.

Mark had Blind Ox fire the first shot that signalled their attack followed instantly with a volley that left many puppets and Japanese collapsed dead and wounded. Surprised and shocked, some threw themselves to the ground, others seeking cover with the lorries, while many ran south into the fields and south-east down the track. As those that remained recovered their senses and seeing others fleeing they too bolted for the safety of distance.

Of those who first sought escape south-east down the track Lieutenant Ta's Fourth Platoon shot the leaders causing the others behind to leap into the field to the south, racing away for their lives.

With hardly a shot fired in return Mark led his First and Second Platoons across the stream bed then up onto the track sweeping through the lorries dealing without mercy with all Japanese and any puppets acting in a threatening way while his Third Platoon continued to fire into the rear of those of the enemy maintaining the attack on the roadblock. He sent a runner to T'a's Fourth Platoon bringing them in to secure the lorry area while he swung the First and Second Platoons south around the roadblock to trap any enemy there still prepared to fight. Those were only Japanese and soon perished.

Hurriedly reorganising his Company Ellison had his wounded placed in one of the huts, while parties were sent to recover as many weapons and as much ammunition as they could find. This was crucial as the fighting had only begun. The Puppets were swept away but the Japanese intent on taking Sweet Water would be a far more difficult struggle.

Leaving Little Feet and his scouts to gather in the puppet wounded to a point in the stream bed and maintain the block Mark took his Company up into the hills where they could overlook Sweet Water.

--oOo--

Captain Ao's orders were clear, he had been told to capture the Japanese supply mules. Keeping his Company off ridge lines where they could be seen he sent two of his most skilled scouts to track the mule train.

As hour after the Japanese had first been seen the main body was drawn up ready to attack Sweet Water but resting, as their Commanders planned. They had sent patrols to search out the points in Sweet Water's defences that would give them the most difficulty but found only chuck Ashman and Ruth who they brutally dealt with. In a bare dell above Sweet Water with a ripple of a stream gliding through, they established a base. Their pack animals being freed of their loads and rested. Near a forward edge of the dell light mortars were being readied.

There the two scouts found them but were unable to approach closely as the Japanese had pickets and patrols out. Captain Ao didn't need too close an inspection when his scouts took him as near to the dell as they dared. He and most of his men knew it well enough having patrolled these hills all through the winter with Mark Ellison's 4 Company.

--oOo--

On the hillside well above Ruth McRae's clinic Commander Han lay in concealment with, beside him, Captains Tsun and Ying. He was aware the Japanese were somewhere close to Sweet Water but not sure how near. Patrols could be seen probing around the walls but no sign of the main body. From what he had seen of them through his binoculars when first sighted he guessed their strength to be between three and four hundred. Less than his own force but would be more heavily armed and in possession of far more ammunition than they.

Because of this unevenness Han was not prepared to rush his men in madly. He knew that to beat the dwarfs here today he and they would somehow have to cripple them badly while conserving their own strength. One indication that he hoped was for the good was the sudden high volume of firing that erupted to the east then died away where he had sent his friend White Thunder.

It was almost noon before the first sign that the enemy were making a serious attempt to attack Sweet Water became apparent. The distinctive hollow cough of a mortar was heard. The explosion caused dust and smoke to billow up north of the village walls. The village was large though, referred to by many as a town, the second mortar fired landed well within its walls. As did the following fifty or so. Han expressed no concern of this to his officers nor them to him for they knew the village was empty.

When the mortar fire ended Japanese soldiers, over a hundred that had not been seen take up their assault positions, rushed the western walls. With much shouting of, "Banzai! Banzai!" they, with no opposition, were soon out of sight spreading through the village.

As soon as the first assault line had set off a second line took their place. Not as many this time and they at first were tense holding themselves ready to follow the others. Half an hour passed then word must have reached them that there was no enemy in the village for then they relaxed, sitting, lying down, collecting in small groups.

"Now Captain Tsun" ordered Han "Take your men and surprise those dwarf devils. Come up behind them while they feel safe but strike swiftly then retreat."

Tsun's Company, nimbly taking advantage of a thick hedge of bush and a low banking stole in behind the lulled Japanese. They had closed in and should have inflicted a near annihilation of the assault line however, when almost ready, a Japanese feeding party approaching from behind cried a warning before turning and running away.

Still, many of the enemy were caught unprepared and died. With those uninjured retreating towards the village walls Pointed Sword's First Company rushed the dead and wounded killing all and looting the bodies of weapons and ammunition. This was a priority worth all risks for their shortage of ammunition was grave.

With Captain Tsun's men melting away into the brush-covered slopes, rifle fired grenades began exploding where they had just fought. This was followed up with a cautious but well controlled counter attack. Before a Platoon would advance light machine-guns would first be positioned to cover them. Han with Captain Ying by his side watched as they recovered their lost ground. Placing out strong pickets around them for protection as they collected all their dead into a mound. Both watching knew what this meant; the bodies were being heaped together for burning.

While this was taking place a party of officers arrived. One senior, possibly a colonel Han judged through his glasses began shouting at a junior as he stood to attention before him. However his angry bawling was brought to an abrupt end when firing was heard coming from the hills above them.

--oOo--

Captain Ao had all through the morning kept a tight control of his patience. The Japanese force halted in the dell he was spying on, remained preparing themselves until the sun was nearing its day's high point. Then not long after the main body had left their mortars, which had remained, began to fire.

The dell was being defended by three picket posts each on the rim of rocks that enclosed three sides of the Japanese selected base. Each picket was manned by six or seven soldiers armed with rifles and a light machine-gun. Ao at a glance knew that if he was to fulfil his commander's order he first had to dispose of the three pickets. To do this he allotted each picket to one of his platoons with instructions to get as close as possible unseen and await the signal to attack. When the Japanese main body left Ao's platoons began to close in on the pickets.

Their Company Commander allowed them two hours then gave the signal. This was he leading his Fourth Platoon in an attack on the mule lines.

The pickets were taken by surprise not expecting an enemy to appear from the hills behind them. As they were clambering to deal with this threat they were then attacked by the Platoons. Two of these who had grenades were successful. The third was seen as they rose to charge, the Platoon Commander and two others were killed. This became a minor battle until the captured machine-guns from the other two posts were used to silence the third.

Within the dell those Japanese remaining, once the main body had left, were not in readiness or fit to repulse an attack. Headquarters administration, mule handlers, cooks, supply parties and six or eight mortar-men, all caught unprepared to resist an attack. With one Platoon working towards them moving from cover to cover, firing as they came, dozens of mules racing in all directions and heavy firing being directed at them from their own picket posts, a frenzied rush began out of the dell in the direction the main force had taken, down towards Sweet Water.

Many escaped but many more didn't. Some officers stood their ground, sword in hand, until without mercy, cut down.

--oOo--

Han, still on his hill slope watching the Japanese activity outside Sweet Water, could only guess as to what was happening beyond his vision. The lack of battle noise east, from the hutments was encouraging as was the sound of it above him but his main point of concentration was before him, Sweet Water and what the Japanese intentions were for attacking it.

Unknown to Han, when the Japanese Commander heard 2 Company's attack begin on his recently established base, he hurried back with half his force only to find dead, destroyed stores, and his vital supply of reserve ammunition and mules gone. While in a surge of rage, once again shooting was heard coming from below, this time in the village.

Han also heard it and concluded it could only be White Thunder. Somehow he had entered the town and was now involved in an engagement with the enemy.

--oOo--

On leaving the hutments, Mark had taken his Company high into the hills where they could overlook Sweet Water. They had seen the village quiet and approached its northern walls. Before entering to seek out his Commander he first investigated a nearby tunnel. There to his horror he found Ann Lin.

"You should be in the hills" he admonished, barely in control of his anger.

"We couldn't leave the old ones" she replied extending a hand towards a large group of elderly and frail, dimly visible in the oil-wick glow. In her other hand she held a pistol.

With the sound of an explosion outside, Mark turned to go.

"Mark!" Ann called in English. "You came back." Neither her voice or expression indicated an emotion but her words swelled with relief and gratitude.

"Yes" he nodded. Giving High Heart's arm a clasp, who stood near, a heavy metal cleaver in his belt. "Old friend."

At the entrance, two of his stay behinds pleaded to rejoin the Company but were refused. Assuring them it was more important they stay and protect those in the tunnel. Emerging Blind Ox informed him it was a mortar bomb landing on a nearby hill slope. Then more arrived but exploded in the town. Mark quickly returned his Company to the hills to await the outcome of the Japanese bombardment.

From there they watched and waited. Seeing their enemy enter the village and heard the shooting that was Captain Tsun's attack they then observed a large body hastening into the hills to the Company's right to investigate the sound of battle from that direction.

Now knowing his Commander had not taken up occupation of the village but seeing the Japanese had, and now in weakened numbers, Mark made the decision to enter the village and engage those they encountered. This was not a flash of impromptu madness; Sweet Water had been their base for almost a year. All those in his Company knew every street, alleyway and back-path. Where an entrance could be found to a back-way, access to roofs, what lay behind doors and where stairs led. This knowledge would give his men a powerful advantage.

So as to minimise the confusion that was bound to result from fighting at close quarters in a confined setting Mark briefed his Platoon Commanders as they looked down on the town. Allocating Platoon sectors, limits of advance, strong points to be held and sectors to fall back to should they be overwhelmed.

Lieutenant Miao's Third Platoon was in the lead entering through Tiger Back gate. There were six gates in the village wall, two on the north, Tiger Back and Star Shadow. Two on the south, Lotus Leaf and Butterfly, with Turtle Egg to the west and Dragon Wing the east. Leaving Lieutenant Hai's Second Platoon to secure Tiger Gate the other three Platoons went on the hunt towards their appointed areas. First Platoon west towards Star Shadow Gate, Third Platoon south to a street junction and the Fourth Platoon east, then south in the direction of Dragon Wing but halting well north of it. Mark selected for his Company post a street junction just fifty yards in from Tiger Gate, a wide beaten earth space with an open stage used for meetings and old style travelling companies to perform. There was also a small Buddhist temple which Mark and his HQ settled into.

The first encounter was by First Platoon with two sentries who had taken chairs from a home to make themselves comfortable. They were dealt with by three of the Platoon slipping around and rushing them from a house gate. Most of the dwelling inside the walls were homes to farmers who worked their fields in the surrounding district. Only around the Inn at Butterfly Gate were there shops and the market stalls.

Third Platoon didn't have the same luck as the First, they were seen first and fired on. However, they quickly melted off the street to begin stalking their attackers. This, for the next hour, began a game of death. The Japanese, realising an enemy force had joined them in the village reacted with zealous drive. Like small mobs they would speed along streets expecting a similar body to clash with. Instead a single shot would be fired and one of their numbers would fall. As this tactic continued it drove the Japanese into finding cover then having to defend themselves against an enemy that was causing them casualties from front, flank and rear.

This success in their fight ended for 4 Company when the Japanese Commander returned from the dell. Entering the village through Turtle Egg Gate they poured into the streets, their officers and NCO's harrying their men forward with threats and curses. The increase in numbers depriving the men of 4 Company the freedom of movement they had first profited from forced to retreat and take up a more conventional defence.

Mark placed his Platoons in a loose semi-circle around Tiger Back Gate for ease of retreat should they have to escape to the hills. His Company had done well but they had taken casualties, two dead and one missing with six wounded. The wounded he had the Second Platoon take to the safe haven of Ann Lin's tunnel.

Due to the increased pressure on his men Mark was on the verge of withdrawing them when Blind Ox drew his attention to firing that could be heard from behind the Japanese.

--oOo--

Stands Erect was made aware of the enemy force that had visited the dell soon after Captain Ao had attacked it by a runner sent by him. With this news Han reacted quickly, moving his two Companies nearer to Sweet Water. With 4 Company engaging the Japanese troops that had remained in the village he posted observers to watch for those from the hills returning.

When alerted that they had done so, entering through Turtle Egg Gate, Han acted.

Taking both Companies into the village through Lotus Leaf, the westerly of the southern gates, he advanced them deep into the village until coming in contact with and engaging the Japanese rear. Putting their Commander in the position of having to extend his troops in a holding arc behind him as he tried first to eliminate 4 Company. With Ellison's men unyielding, the line of battle, over the next two hours, became a half circle within Sweet Water.

With their vast knowledge of the village Pointed Sword was constantly threatening the Japanese flanks. To prevent the Platoons of Han's two Companies from slipping behind them they were compelled to involuntarily sidestep eastwards until they had reached the village wall just south of Dragon Wing Gate. This turned the circumstances of the fighting around so it looked as if the Japanese were, more-or-less, surrounded. This may have seemed so but it was the Japanese who had the means of claiming victory. They were a fully armed infantry force with machine-guns, rifle grenades, light mortars and at the beginning substantial ammunition. While on the Chinese side they were fighting with heavy limitations. No mortars or machine-gun, few grenades and scarce ammunition. This wasn't an immediate problem with 4 Company for once they fired the limited rounds from their Chinese rifles they were discarded continuing with puppet rifles. They, on being routed, had, in most cases, flung them away before fleeing. It was Han's two companies that were in the most desperate need. The runner from Captain Ao who had found him, he sent back with an urgent request to bring to him all the weapons and ammunition seized at the dell.

More than aware of his Commander's plight of arms, Captain Ao had been struggling to reach him since gaining the fruits of his attack. The mules were the main source of his troubles. His men were not skilled at handling them. After the fighting they had to be chased and returned to the dell. Then their packs fastened to their backs and loads somehow secured to them. All this was done hurriedly and in ignorance of how the loads should properly balance. Several animals protested alarmingly, kicking, stamping about, shedding their loads and running off.

Clearing the dell in a disarrayed tangle, Ao had to first head away from Sweet Water to avoid the Japanese response to his attack of their base and then try to create order out of the bedlam.

The first of these supplies to reach the village was brought by a Platoon of Ao's carrying the weapons and ammunition themselves while leading only a few of the tamer mules. They were greeted by Warrant Officer Ch'e who had been looking out for them for some hours from atop the village wall near Turtle Egg Gate. Among this consignment were hand grenades which Ch'e had taken straight away to the fighting.

When the Japanese had first formed their half circle it had not been adapted as such for defence, more a base from which to strike from. This they did as Pointed Sword closed around them. Then as the Chinese firing became sustained an assault would be mounted against the main point with the aim of causing high casualties. This however, seldom worked. Pointed Sword would nimbly side-step or fall well back letting the Japanese machine guns and mortars do their damage in vacated areas.

Towards evening Ellison began to notice a marked change in the attitude of his men. On entering the village they were bubbling with enthusiasm to take on the dwarfs. After sending the puppet force scrabbling away in fright they began the fighting in the village with eagerness. Now their face, after long hours of fighting showed only grim determination. He had given himself ample occasions to judge for he was continually on the move visiting all his Platoons as they played their deadly game of cat and mouse.

As darkness fell around the village firing began to lessen. The enemy mortars ceased altogether their machine guns fired much shorter bursts and rifle fire slackened. Whether because of poor light or lack of ammunition was a guess but Commander Han was in no doubt. The Japanese reserve ammunition had just arrived with Captain Ao and his other three Platoons.

Throughout the day smoke had billowed into the sky and swirled through the street from fires lit through battle causes. Homes and buildings burned but few spread. Made of adobe and mud brick in centuries past, the contents inside would flame but not the structures. The fires should have given light to the night but the drifting smoke dampened its brightness.

At midnight, Mark, relieving the Second Platoon on Tiger Back with the Third, he then led them on a raid. In the last hours of daylight, the Japanese had occupied a house a short distance in rear of his temple HQ and he wanted them out before first light. The Second, on guard at Tiger Back the whole day, their duty broken for short periods only helping wounded to the tunnel were athirst for the chance to get at the dwarfs. Their zeal though was unrewarded. Stalking the house they found no sentries and the house empty. Searching further they discovered the Japanese had withdrawn from their front.

Returning to the temple he found Ann and High Heart awaiting him.

"We came to see of your wounded. None had been brought to us for some hours" she explained.

"We have been fortunate" replied Ellison.

Sending word around his Platoons that the enemy appeared to have fallen back. He advised them to rest but with sentries alert. He also dispatched Sincere Flute west around the village to find Commander Han to report that the Japanese in his sector had withdrawn. He then, in company with Ann, High Heart and Blind Ox, climbed to the crown of the wall where a three man picket was crouched.

"Listen, Honoured Captain" whispered one, pointing to a blazing fire in the direction of Dragon Wing Gate. The sound was of men screaming. In the morning they would discover in preparation for leaving Sweet Water, the enemy had dismantled the village market stalls for firewood using it to burn their dead and throwing also into the flames any of the wounded unable to march.

While listening Ann came up beside Mark who felt her hand take his. "You came back. You came back" she whispered.

They were the same words she had spoken earlier that day in the tunnel but now laden with sensual desire.

Dropping his head, unable to restrain his inner feeling any longer he whispered in return, "I love you Ann".

In the dark this appeared to go unnoticed but not unnoticed by High Heart.

--oOo--

Little Feet heard them before he saw them, boots running, only dwarfs wore boots.

He too had heard the screaming and had left his scouts at the hutments to investigate. Making his way down the track towards Sweet Water he passed through the four man post he had set there to watch for any sign of Japanese troops approaching their way. Offering to accompany their sergeant, Little Feet told them to remain; he would only be gone a short time. They, he considered, had done enough that day. Halting the puppet advance into the district and holding them off until the arrival of White Thunder.

Standing at the foot of the track where it rose to a small height then dipping before continuing on to Sweet Water they came into sight, silhouetted against the smoke-blurred firelight as they crested the rise. There were twelve to fifteen of them. If they continued on they would clash with his four scouts. Young and brave, death would be their reward.

Little Feet moved just off the track to hide his outline against a tall standing of kaoliang. The first three, wearing helmets, rifles with their bayonets on at the trail, he let pass. Then, sword in hand he stepped onto the track.

--oOo--

Just after dawn they were taken to where he lay by scouts whose dirty cheeks were streaked with tears. In the track, sat with his back against a low banking, head bowed, sword across his upper legs, still held in hand, bloody from bayonet and bullet wounds, around him on the track were eight bodies.

Han stood over him and silently cursed, the dwarfs, the war. Mark remembered that cold winter day north of the Yangtze when he was approached by this smiling ragamuffin wishing the chance to sell him for ransom. Blind Ox bent and took the sword from his friend's grasp. He would see that it shared his grave. This, later that day was in the village cemetery where the other twelve of Pointed Sword's fallen joined him. Graves dug by men and women of the district. As was Ruth McRae and Chuck Ashman's. Both wrapped together in the same cloth and put to rest in each other's arms.

Before returning to Sweet Water Commander Han turned to his runner "Soldier Ma. You are now Sergeant Ma. Take command of the scouts."

Long before there was enough of the morning dawn to prove it true, Pointed Sword knew the Japanese had left Sweet Water. They could be heard scrambling with their hobnailed boots over rocks into the hills and away the way they had come but many less than when they had arrived. Han sent Captain Ao and his Company after them, not to obstruct but to ensure their sole intention was to go.

With danger gone, the district set to, to recover itself. Sweet Water was damaged but not destroyed. In time, repairs would be made. From the hills the people of the district returned, some showing their relief in smiles, others with tears.

Pointed Sword's many wounded were taken to the clinic where, with Ruth McRae now dead, Still Willows had assumed responsibility.

On visiting the wounded Mark and Han found Still Willows checking the bandaging of a soldier's leg by one of Ruth's nurses. They were in the middle of the ward, all beds full and many of Han's command laid on the floor but Still Willows on seeing him, hesitated for just a moment before hurrying forward, pausing a mere instant before clutching him in her arms. A very un-Chinese act, lacking all modesty but Han's response was even more so. Placing an arm around her shoulder he bent and kissed her hair.

"At last" said Mark to himself finding one of his wounded soldiers conveniently handy to talk to "At last they have responded to a long lasting fondness for each other."

--oOo--

In the afternoon Major Yeh arrived with one hundred of his men. He was unaware of the Japanese assault on the district and only brought the armed escort because, on being told Pointed Sword was leaving, felt there may have been a need to fill a defensive gap.

That evening a council of war was assembled in what had become the village school room. The District Council, Major Yey, Han, all his Company Commanders and Loyal Monkey who had rejoined Han shortly after he had entered the village the day before. The outcome was that everything would remain in place as it was before Colonel Lang arrived; agreeing all he told them and proposed was to be ignored.

It was the meeting after between Han, Mark and Loyal Monkey that had the most telling impact. Loyal Monkey first confessed to the other two that he had briefly seen Lang and Pei before when he was a junior officer in Peiping prior to the war. They were of lesser rank then and had attended the same lecture given on how to disperse student demonstrators. He showed them the papers taken from Lang's body stating that General Tai Li and his intelligence organisation knew of the Battalion and that it was working with the communists. He then told them that someone had to return to Free China to tell a tale that everyone including Lang's party had been killed fighting the Japanese. It would be the only way of eliminating another visit from another Lang.

He then went on to say the person who must go is Mark. Ellison protested but Loyal Monkey pointed out that their lie would never last once whispers and loose words reached Tai Li's spies and agents that an Englishman was alive and living in the district. Once discovered Chunking would become inquisitive about the true fate of Lang and his party. Then he continued, Tai Li would be looking for ways of taking reprisal.

With his eyes turned to Mark in an unwavering voice he said "Madam Chiang Kai-shek knows of Tender Mist. Therefore Chiang knows of her. Therefore Tai Li will know of her also and where she can be found."

--oOo--

Pausing on the ridge line in the hills above Sweet Water Mark looked back one final time. Below him, the district, under a blazing mid-morning summer sun, exposed itself in brilliant vivid detail. Even distant Parrot Nest and High Hawk stood so clear individual building could be recognised. As too were Hamlets and farms on the plain and along the riverbank and track-ways.

His farewells had begun early that morning visiting the graves of Chuck Ashman, Ruth McRae and Little Feet at Dawn. Then to the wounded in the clinic and a tearful goodbye from Still Willows. The District Committee as well as most of the village had left their work and homes to show their regret of his leaving. His Company and many from other Companies had lined the track to cheer his every step.

Ever since the hideous events of Nanking, Mark had lived with sadness. A burden that never lightened but grew as God's divine will took from him steadfast comrades and deeply cherished friends. Now leaving Sweet Water was adding yet more remorse but of a different kind; as if he was being forced to accept banishment from his home.

As Mark, with wistful eyes, searched the village walls in hope of seeing a figure waving, his sorrow was added to by the forlorn knowledge that he and Ann were now apart and were not to know when they would meet again. Turning, Mark took three steps off the ridge and Sweet Water, hidden by rock and turf was now confined to the limits of memory.

Ahead of him was Loyal Monkey, Joyous Trust and two guides provided by Major Yeh. Loyal Monkey and Joyous Trust were there, they told him, to see he was safely delivered into the welcoming bosom of Free China. The real reason he learned of two weeks later as he stood beside a small boat that was to take him across the flooded lands between Honan and Anhwei Provinces that Chiang had caused four years earlier.

As they shook hands and embraced in farewell Loyal Monkey confessed to him that he was not returning to the district. He and Joyous Trust were going instead to Shanghai.

"Shanghai! But why?" Mark had asked. "I have a quest" replied Loyal Monkey.

"Is this quest to do with Black Blaze? And, if so, I should be coming with you!"

As Loyal Monkey gave Mark a cautious look he added "Your cousin told me the reason for your search. Said this Black Blaze was a tough one. I feel I should be with you."

"An Englishman in Shanghai, White Thunder. The dwarfs would have you in an instant" warned his friend. "No, I with Joyous Trust's help will deal with Black Blaze. Your role is a far more important one. Keeping Pointed Sword and Tender Mist safe from Chiang's unleashed hounds."

CHAPTER 24
How can you put out a fire set on a cartload of wood with only a cup of water?
Chinese Proverb

It was early morning when they arrived emerging from the scrubland on the south of the airfield. There were six of them, the tallest leading. He a European or American with a thick black beard, sword down his back, rifle slung on his shoulder, uniform, a pale khaki woefully patched. The others, in single file, were Chinese dressed as farmers but each was armed.

It was late April 1944 and this was an American airfield bulldozed out of dry bush land west of Tung-lana on the West River, Kwangsi Province South China. The airfield was new, less than a year old, there were no hangars just a handful of high tin-roofed lean-tos where men could be seen working on aircraft. All other buildings, administration, stores and living accommodation were single-story prefabricated wood structures.

Taking his party well clear of the landing runway a one-ton truck sent to investigate them pulled up and stopped beside the leader. A large dark-haired sergeant with a 45 calibre automatic pistol slung at his hip addressed the young bearded man. "Buddy, if you speak American I gotta tell yah you're trespassin on United States' property."

"A fact I'm well aware of sergeant" came the reply, "I'm Major Lin Nationalist Army Guerrilla Forces. I've come to speak to your Station Commander."

"Well that will be Colonel Spooner but you'll have to get past Captain Westall, the Admin Adjutant first" answered the sergeant taken slightly aback that this sword-totting hobo did speak the lingo. "I'll run yah all up to the HQ. Hop in the back."

Within a few minutes the sergeant pulled up outside one of the prefab buildings, one among many but with a sign that designated it the Headquarters of a Fighter Bomber Group.

"Grab some shade" offered the sergeant pointing to the covered veranda in front of the building to his passengers, as they climbed from the back of the truck. "I'll just let Captain Westall know you're after a chinwag."

Colonel Henry Spooner, a forty-seven-year-old United States Army Air Corps officer was sat at his desk reading mission reports when he was interrupted by a knock on his office door. Followed by his administration adjutant appearing around it "Have you a spare minute Colonel?" he asked.

"Why, Doug? What is it?" the Colonel continued to hold the file he was reading.

"Terry and the Pirates" replied the Captain stepping through the door to hold it open, calling back, "Come in Major. The Colonel will see you."

Through the door then up to his desk came, perhaps not a comic strip character, but something near enough. Bedraggled uniform, bearded, holstered pistol at his waist and a sword handle protruding over one shoulder. Over the other shoulder, Spooner could see his adjutant, a grin practically disappearing behind his ears.

"Major Lin, Nationalist Army Guerrilla Forces" announced Mark saluting. "Sir, if you will allow me a few minutes of your time I will be most grateful."

The Colonel standing but not remembering doing so returned the salute, the file still in his other hand. "How do you do Major? Pull up a chair."

Then, looking to his adjutant "And you too Doug. You had better listen in."

"Wouldn't miss this for the world, Colonel" replied Westall taking a seat.

"Ok Major, shoot" instructed Spooner placing the file to one side.

"It's two things I'm here for sir. One, I'm after help. The other is a warning" began Ellison.

"Help and a warning?" repeated the Colonel.

"Yes sir. The help is, I've come to you in the hope of you being able to supply us with explosives; dynamite" ventured Ellison.

"Dynamite!" mused the Colonel, "Not sure if we hold the stuff" then looking to Westall, "Doug?"

"Not my department" replied the Captain "But I can give Sergeant Beardmore a call."

On the Colonel agreeing, Westall left the room for his office.

"Why the need Major?" asked Spooner.

"Sir" began Ellison, "I've been in command of Guerrilla formations behind Japanese lines in South Kwangsi for over two years. Now just recently there has been strong signs that the Japanese are about to spring a surprise attack. But before I go on I would like to call in one of my officers" then pointing to the Colonel's desk. "Sir, your cigarettes; would you mind if I gave some to my men?"

"Feel free; and the matches, and help yourself" agreed the Colonel handing them to Mark.

"That's most kind sir but I have had to give them up. I have a Goddaughter who disapproves" thanked Ellison taking the cigarettes to the glassless window to hand them to his waiting men, while asking one, not bothered with the gift, to come into the building.

On Mark opening the office door for him to enter he was introduced to the Colonel as Captain Pien. Mid-forties, slender, hair greying, his face beginning to line. A farmer's conical hat resting on his back and not in the least overawed in the presence of this tall, sand white-haired American in his spotless uniform with shining brass eagles on his shirt collars.

"Sir, for the explosives, Captain Pien has for you a gift" explained Ellison. Then speaking a few words in Chinese to Pien who unravelled a cloth he was carrying, held up and presented to Spooner a Japanese sword.

"For this you have a bargain" replied the Colonel drawing the sword from its scabbard. "I have a house back in Sacramento and this will look real good over the fireplace. The neighbours will be impressed six ways from Sunday and I'll tell each one a different story as to how I captured it."

Thanking Pien he placed the sword across his desk then had the two men sit as Westall re-entered the room, "Bearmore's on his way Colonel."

"Now, Major. You said you had a warning, of what?" asked Spooner.

"Sir, this attack I mentioned. Have you been advised of it?" replied Ellison.

"No. Should I?" asked the Colonel shaking his head.

"Yes sir. I believe you should have" answered Mark, "For over a month now all my guerrilla bands have been reporting indications and activity that can only mean that Japanese units will be moving into positions just behind the main battle front. There is no intended threat to them from the Chinese side so this must mean they plan to attack instead.

"Major. I have an intelligence officer who runs a good team. If something like that was about to happen I'm sure he would have got wind of it. Or, been told of a threat by the boys above" replied Spooner. "Are you sure the Japs are up to no good?"

"No doubts Sir" enforced Ellison. "All the evidence gathered points to Japanese troops arriving in my districts in some strength and soon. Villages have been cleared, forced labour made to dig new wells, food stocks seized and centralised. But the one act that is a clear indication that large numbers of troops will be arriving is the fact that young girls have been rounded up and are being held which means they will be used in Japanese Army brothels which is why we have come after the explosives. Two of Captain Pien's nieces have been taken and he wants them back. This won't be possible without explosives."

"Well, if we got it, he'll have it" promised the Colonel before asking, "But why come to us and not your own people?"

"If they had it they wouldn't give it up" answered Mark. "I've asked for supplies from the army across the line before."

"Well again. This warning?" asked Spooner "Why come to us with it? The Jap front is a hundred miles south. You should be telling the Chinese Commanders about all this, not us!"

"I have been" replied the Englishman "Now I'm on my way to Chungking to report to General Pai, my superior. I have no way of knowing if my reports have been getting through to him. Captain Pien and his men will be returning south but I must go on."

"So this warning you've brought is really just a friendly neighbour thing. Letting us know that some fighting could spring up to the south?" assumed the American.

"Far from it sir" corrected Mark, "I know the Commander of the Chinese Army down there. You and your base could well be overrun."

"Major, a hundred miles is a long way. What makes you so sure we could be in trouble?" asked Spooner.

"Face" replied Mark.

"Face?" repeated the Colonel.

"This is China, sir" began Mark in explanation. "Face is all important. Losing it is a huge dishonour. General Shual, who is in command in the south, knows he is shortly to be attacked because I sent him my reports. He knows he is too weak to defeat it. If he stays and fights and is beaten he will lose face. Therefore he won't stay but he can't tell you he is running away because then he will lose face with you because of admitting his weakness in defending your airfield. So, he will just leave to find somewhere safe. The only indication you may have is when his army begins parading past your gate. Then, the roads will be full of refugees following the army who have left them to their fate and behind them will come the Japs."

"You don't mean that" responded Spooner, not knowing whether to smile or get angry. "They wouldn't just up and leave us high and dry!"

"Colonel" replied Mark, "I've been a soldier in Chiang Kai-shek's army for over six years."

"Major" began Spooner in a serious tone having remained thinking for some moments, "If things happen the way you say they're gonna happen, what's our chances here?"

"All I can suggest sir is that anything you have here at the moment that's not needed to fight with is moved well back to a safer area" proposed Mark. "Leave it too late and you'll have to destroy or burn it."

"Doug" snapped Spooner to his adjutant, "Get Tony down here on the double and tell him to bring every scrap of intelligence he can lay his hands on, on Jap intentions."

As Westall hurried from the room an enlisted airman announced to the colonel "Sergeant Beardmore's here, sir".

"Good! Tell him to come in Parry" acknowledged the Colonel turning to Ellison. "This is Sergeant Beardmore. He runs our demolition squad mostly blowing up any dud munitions and bombs that turn up."

Through the door to stop and salute stepped a stocky man with a rugged suntanned face. His uniform was crumpled and dirty, boots unpolished. Ellison liked his appearance. Everything about him said business first.

"Sergeant Beardmore" began the Colonel, "We need your help. This is Major Lin and Captain Pien of the Chinese Army. They've come looking for dynamite. Have you got a supply?"

"Not us Sir" answered the sergeant warily.

Mark recognised the reluctance in Beardmore's less than full answer. Suspicious that these people have come to take something that belongs to him.

"Well what do you use to blow things up with?" asked Spooner.

"Nowadays we use plastic explosives, sir" replied Beardmore, his voice still tinted with misgivings.

"Well that should do. I'd like you to turn some of whatever you have over to the Major and his Captain" requested the Colonel.

"What they gonna do with it Colonel?" the sergeant's voice was heavy with doubt about the Colonel's wisdom on this.

"Kill Japs with it" spoke up Ellison.

Beardmore looked at the bearded Englishman for a moment then addressed his Colonel, "How much can I give 'em, sir?"

--oOo--

For the remaining morning and into the afternoon Sergeant Beardmore and the half dozen members of his squad took Captain Pien and his men in hand teaching them the delights of blowing things to smithereens. With Mark as interpreter they were taught how to make up a charge using the plastic explosive, primers, detonators, detonation cord and safety fuse. Shown how to mould the plastic to a shape that would give the most successful results. How to cut the safety fuse, judged the burning time of each length and the most effective way to light it. Beardmore's men were just as enthusiastic in teaching as Pien's were in learning.

After a meal and being lavished with candy, chocolate bars and cartons of cigarettes, with Colonel Spooner's permission they were loaded into the squad demolition truck. And, in company with the whole squad, the driver wearing a conical hat drove Pien and his men south to where they could safely cross through the Japanese lines.

On seeing them off Doug Westall guided Mark first to the camp barber for a haircut and beard removal, then to a supply sergeant where he was given a more suitable uniform finishing up in the officers' quarters under a shower.

After an early supper, Captain Tony Hart, the airfield intelligence officer, took Mark to his office. There he gave Hart full answers to all his questions however three hours later he could see the captain still had his doubts of what he was being told. Giving tiredness as an excuse Ellison left the officer with his inquisitor's inherent mistrust and went to bed.

Colonel Spooner, with no direct flight from his airfield to Chungking, had a seat on their morning mail plane to Kunming booked for Mark. This was America's main supply base where all flights over the lower Himalayas to and from India took off and landed. Because of Japan's capture of all land routes this was the only way by which America could supply China with her war needs since being drawn into the conflict by Japan's attack on them at Pearl Harbour.

So, with a letter of authority signed by Spooner, Mark was hoping to catch a lift at Kunming on to Chungking. He had not been back to the city for two and a half years and was looking forward to seeing his goddaughter once again.

--oOo--

When Ellison came ashore on the banks of Free China after being taken across the flooded farmland he first made his way to General Li's Headquarters, the funds to do so provided by Loyal Monkey from the money taken off the body of Colonel Lang.

General Li remembered him from their meeting that day on the road and accepted his story of how the battalion came to be adrift behind the Japanese lines and of his lie regarding its demise. His stay with Li was brief though, being sent by him to Chungking to make a full report of Pointed Sword's tragic end. But he was also given by Li a letter of recommendation to his trusted friend and colleague from his days when he was the Governor of Kwangsi Province, General Pai Ch'ung-hsi.

Arriving in Chungking he made his report to army headquarters who seemed satisfied with the tale he told. Even surviving an interview with Tai Li, who, thin but handsome sat with a stiff, upright back all through Ellison's report and seemed to accept it as valid. Or, perhaps he was no longer concerned about Lang's fate.

For three months Pai kept him occupied with staff work about his office but no hint of an appointment. This suited Mark for it gave him long periods with which to spend with Tender Mist.

She was five now, or so he and Mirran Harrington decided. Taking it that she was three when first arriving at the orphanage, her birthday was agreed to be the day Mark had first swung her up onto his shoulders. They both cried that first day he returned to her but Mark made it his policy to have her laugh for the rest. Without it appearing that Tender Mist was being favoured Mirran would allow as much time with his goddaughter as Mark himself could spare. They were not alone though. On their walks and trips to the local tea house and the riverbank Tender Mist had a friend, Jung Kang, Velvet Rainbow, and had become as close to each other as twins.

It was late November 1941 when Pai called Mark into his office to tell him he had an important job for him. Half of his old Province, Kwangsi, had been occupied by the Japanese and he wanted someone with experience of operating behind the lines to organise collective control of all the guerrilla bands. Ellison accepted but with slight reluctance for it would mean another separation from Tender Mist. However, there was another side that had no hesitation in agreeing to go, a darker one, for his old pursuit of vengeance still burned hotly.

Now, after two and a half years he was once again on his way back to Chungking. During that time he had found the battle to persuade the scattered guerrilla bands to affiliate and support each other in opposing the Japanese just as difficult a problem as fighting the Japanese themselves. Now, at least for the moment he was leaving behind a unified command. Instead of bands that attacked the Japanese because the opportunity had presented itself without considering reprisals or tactical forethought he now had sector commanders that co-ordinated all actions. The price paid by him for this success was a high one though. There was a reward on his head, five thousand Chinese dollars. Because of that he was constantly on the move remaining in one place for only two or three days and never in a village or farm. The Japanese had their spies and informers throughout southern Kwangsi. If it was known he had slept in a certain village or house the Japanese would swiftly visit it with rape, death and destruction.

--oOo--

Arriving in Chungking he first reported to General Pai and was surprised to learn that he had received his reports although he didn't impart to him what the overall plan was to be in dealing with the attack. It was only some years later that Mark discovered Chiang's decision on the matter was to allow his armies to retreat giving up the airfields but conserving his troops.

Tender Mist was almost eight now and he asked Mirran if she was doing well enough in her schooling could she begin English lessons. Her reply was, languages were not begun until the age of twelve but she would consider the request.

He also learned that a regular visitor to the orphanage was taking a close interest in his goddaughter, Madam SunYat-sen, the widow of Dr Sun Yat-sen, a former President of China and considered the Father of China. She was known to Mark having met her in Hong Kong the day after he and Rosina had returned from Macao.

Prior to leaving Chungking the goldsmith who had given him more than a generous sum in Chinese dollars for Mad Flame's gold fillings had introduced him to a gentleman wishing to have a letter delivered to Madam Sun Yet-sen, who would then see it published in a Hong Kong newspaper. The address, he found, was an apartment midway up the Peak.

A beautiful woman opened the door that Mark mistook for an assistant or companion but was in fact Madam Sun. Mark explained the reason for his visit and handed the letter to her expecting to then be allowed to leave but instead was invited to have tea which extended his stay to two hours.

For a former President's wife it was a simple apartment but seemed to suit this woman so fair and genteel with an unconscious dignity and grace that soon captivated Mark. Although educated in America she spoke with a cultured English accent and had an enchantingly disarming way of extracting from Ellison all his past, his employment with Livingston's, Nanking, the Lins whom she had known well, Pointed Sword, the meeting with her sister, Madam Chiang Kai-shek and Tender Mist. When told of her she became enthralled, smiling and repeating the name several times.

On obtaining her address from Mirran, Mark made the time to call around the bungalow to the west of the city that was now her home after escaping from Hong Kong when the Japanese attacked and captured it in December 1941. His intention was to thank her for extending her interest in his goddaughter although he also found himself sharing the visit with another, Chou En-lai, the communist representative attached to Chiang Kai-Shek's Headquarters. A man clever with his questions while guarded in his own answers but nonetheless, Mark thought, once shown to be loyal and true, a man who could be counted on.

On arriving in Chungking after leaving Pointed Sword he had done his best to see that the next of kin of Ruth, Chuck and Sam Sambrook were informed of their deaths. Ashman's passport and pilots log book he was able to hand on to one of his company representatives at the Chungking office with an accompanying letter. As for Ruth, he knew nothing of who she had come to China to work for so had written a letter to a Vancouver newspaper enclosing a family picture he had found at her bedside. Now on his return, having entered the orphanage as his mailing address, Mirran had handed him two letters, one from Chuck's sister and the other from Ruth's mother, both two years old.

When less than a week had passed since arriving in Chungking Mark returned one afternoon to Pai's headquarters after a morning visit with Tender Mist and Velvet Rainbow, for they were inseparable, to find a young American pilot awaiting him.

"If you're Major Lin?" he said, "I've been instructed by Colonel Spooner to say to you, 'White Thunder'."

This was the words they had agreed on to be used in warning him, if it could be done, that it looked as if the Japanese were mounting their attack.

"I've got a plane waiting for you Major" he continued, "Colonel Spooner made it pretty clear that I was to get you back sharp-ish."

--oOo--

On returning to the airfield, Mark and his pilot had to wait their turn to land, as flights of P51 ground attack fighters and B25 Mitchell bombers swooped into and flew off the runway. On the ground all was in frantic haste. Aircrews, between missions, studying maps, their hands filled with coffee and doughnuts, while ground staff refuelled and re-armed aircraft. Off the airfield vehicles everywhere were in motion or being loaded from supply stores and dumps.

Entering Colonel Spooner's office, Mark found him clearing a filing cabinet. "Hold your arms out Parry" he was saying to a young airman, "I want you to take these and burn them."

As the airman left, his arms heaped, Spooner caught sight of Ellison. "Well Major. You were right. I gotta admit we weren't sold on what you told us but it's proving straight aces all the way.

"I'm looking for no prizes for it, Sir" replied Ellison.

"Have you seen what's going past us on that road out there? Just like you said; Chinese soldiers." Spooner continued to empty his cabinet. "It started two days ago, a trickle, now look at it. I got all my three squadrons going flat out as long as there's daylight. They've never seen so many targets down there. HQ says I should sit tight but they can go chew my boots. I'm doing like you said, moving stuff back. We'll stick it out as long as we can but I can see us looking for a new base pretty pronto."

The Colonel paused for a moment to look at Mark. "You got plans?"

"I've got to get across the lines quickly" answered Mark, "The Jap supply columns will be vulnerable to attacks by my people and I must be there with them."

"Go grab Doug" said the Colonel holding more files in his hands. "Tell him I said you're to be taken by vehicle to wherever you say."

Ellison turned to go but was stopped briefly in the door with, "And Major. Thanks and good luck!"

Three hours and seventy miles later Miles asked his two escorts to stop their jeep in the dip of the road where a small stream ran over it. Dressed in his old uniform, kept for him by Westall, armed again with sword, rifle and pistol, he shook both their hands in thanks for taking the time to see him safely started on his return journey. Then stepping into the stream he walked up it and was soon out of sight, enveloped in a blink by the bank-side growth.

"What's his chances?" asked Doug Westall of Tony Hart as he struggled to turn the Jeep around without hitting any of the refugees, carts or water buffalos trudging north.

"Headin' through Jap lines with them pouring over" he replied… "Snowball in hell!"

CHAPTER 25
A pearl in the palm
(Chinese praise for a young child)

Standing on the road above Kowloon Mark Ellison looked across the harbour to an island that eight years earlier he had once called home. At a glance it was still the same; the harbour, the sea front and jetties, the blocks of tall commercial buildings, the Peak and the shrub-covered ridge, the backbone of the island that ran east and west to almost the full length of its eleven miles. But it was different. The Harbour he knew, once alive in a swirl of sea traffic with passenger liners, ferries, yachts, tramp steamers, tankers and freighters loading and unloading all along the Colony's docks and jetties, was gone.

Now in the mooring roads of Grand Waterways, Southern Fairway and Central Fairway, only a few ships lay at anchor. The fleet of high-stern junks and handful of British warships, destroyers and cruisers, could only embellish its emptiness. The Hong Kong commercial centre of the island also had a different appearance. From Wing Lok, the Macao ferry wharf, east to the Colony Yacht Club, the buildings seemed to have taken on a cheerless gloom. But then so they should, they had just suffered three and a half years of Japanese neglect.

Above Mark, white tumbling clouds raced across a bright morning sky, for it was the typhoon season, September 1945, and the war with Japan had been over for a month and he was again a civilian.

Mark had been given his official release from the Chinese Army by General Pai shortly after the General had reviewed the victory parade at Nan-ning, Kwangsi's capital city. Ellison had not taken part in the victory parade, he and his guerrilla follower's dress would have given the occasion to much of a look as if champions of a primeval conflict. The marching and reaping of glory was entrusted instead to Central Government soldiers with their smart uniforms, vehicles and artillery.

After being dropped off by Westall and Hart, Mark had made his way through the Japanese lines and spent several months co-ordinating the efforts of his bands in disrupting the Japanese supply lines. It was not though, until Washington ordered Chiang Kai-shek to take back the lost airfields that his districts began to experience long periods of crushing distress. As the Japanese were pushed back they freely destroyed, burned and raped.

Foreseeing this, and drawing on what he had learned from Ann Lin, Mark ordered caves and tunnels dug where forests and hills were lacking to hide. But many unable to find concealment were discovered and suffered. Even the arrival of the Nationalist Army gave little reprieve, seizing all food stocks with no remittance. A parade would have been poor reward for the six years of Japanese inhuman barbarism dealt upon them so freely. What the people of the Province needed most was the stability of peace in order to rebuild and grow crops.

On taking his leave of the army Mark retained his pistol and sword, reflecting that the army were the better off, considering on arrival he had provided them with a fully working medium machine-gun. Finished now with war, he had three goals to fulfil. Somehow, reclaim his old job, collect Tender Mist, then find and ask Ann Lin to marry him.

It had taken Mark nine days to reach Hong Kong by foot and catching any form of motor vehicle travelling the same way as he. At the border post to the Colony he showed his passport to the recently recruited and uniformed British employed Chinese customs official and was waved through. Now on reaching the Star Ferry jetty, to find no ferry, he paid ten cents to one of the sampan operators who were providing the lost service. Arriving at his old bungalow, the one he had shared with Kit Sewell, he was mildly apprehensive as to his reception. It would be too much to hope to find Kit there but perhaps someone who would be just as helpful.

Ellison knocked three times and was about to give up the effort when an old Chinese, stooped and slow in walk, appeared around the corner of the bungalow to stare.

"Wang" cried Ellison leaving the porch to approach him.

"Yes" said the caretaker.

"Wang, I am so glad to see you" greeted the Englishman.

"I am so sorry" began Wang as Mark neared to only a few yards of him, then "Oh Mister Ellison! Mister Ellison. It is my eyes. I do not see so well now."

"That's alright Wang. I'm just so pleased to see you here" replied Mark putting an arm around his shoulder "Is anyone living in the bungalow?"

"Oh no! No! Not since Japs have gone" answered Wang. "They stole everything. No furniture. No beds. No electricity, only cold water."

"Are you well my friend? You did not come to any harm because of them?" asked Ellison genuinely concerned.

"Some beatings" confessed Wang "But I was more fortunate than others."

"The Company, Wang?" asked Mark, "Has it begun to operate?"

"Oh yes. But there are so few of those you knew, Mister Ellison" answered Wang. "They were put in prison camps and many did not survive."

"I must go and see" informed Mark "Who has taken charge at the office?"

"Mister Sewell I think it is" replied Wang. "It was he who asked me to remain here. He said he would try to have the damage repaired."

"Well I will go and see Mister Sewell now but first I need to shave and change my clothes" explained Mark. "Did the dwarfs steal my trunk as well?"

"Oh Mister Ellison" began Wang unable to control his smile, "When those devils came I hid your trunk up in the eaves. It is still there."

--oOo--

Approaching the Livingston Building the first thing he noticed besides the drabness and broken windows, the glass replaced with paper, was the sign over the front, letters two feet high, was missing. In the reception lobby behind the desk was a man he didn't expect to see, Jack Saunders. Gaunt, less hair and a lot greyer but none the less it was him.

"Hello Jack. I didn't expect to see you here" called Mark approaching the desk.

"Why Mister Ellison" greeted Saunders. "And who did you expect?"

"I just didn't know" replied Mark "But I'm glad it's you and damn glad to see you got through the occupation in one piece."

"Only just Mister Ellison. Spent the war across the water in Shamshuipo Camp." Disclosed Saunders. "A lot of us went in. Not a great many came out."

"And your family Jack? Wife, two boys?" enquired Mark hesitantly.

"No sign" replied Saunders shaking his head. "I saw my wife just once, through the wire across the road. She didn't dare wave nor did I. Ten minutes and she was gone. I've been asking around but nothing's turned up."

"Not to give up Jack" encouraged Ellison, "Everything's in turmoil. They're probably waiting for things to settle down before returning."

"Perhaps! Perhaps!" replied Saunders straightening to ask "Now Mister Ellison. Why the visit?"

"To tell the truth Jack I'm after my old job back. What do you think the chances are?" confessed Ellison.

"Well don't let on I gave you the nod but pretty good" replied Saunders. "We lost a lot of good blokes in Shamshuipo and they haven't been replaced."

"Thanks Jack. Who do I see?" asked Ellison.

"Alex Sewell, third floor" replied Saunders, "But you'll have to take the stairs. The elevator's been broke for years."

--oOo--

Mark found Kit's father in an inner office after seeing him through a door half ajar. On his brief search he had found no receptionist or secretaries.

"Excuse me Sir. Are you busy?" asked Mark after knocking.

Sewell, like Jack Saunders, looked only half the man Mark remembered. Thin, tired, and he too had lost hair. The room was bare except for the chair Sewell was sitting on, a rickety table and another plain wooden chair in front of the table.

Sewell looked up from the sheet of paper he was studying, a pair of reading glasses balanced on his nose.

For several long moments he said nothing then asked "Ellison?"

"Yes sir, I've just returned and was hoping to have a word with you."

"Well come in and sit down" invited the older man.

"Now what is it?" he asked as Mark settled in the chair.

"Well sir, with the war finished, the orphanage no longer requires my aid" explained Mark, maintaining his deception of the last eight years in the belief that if he told the truth he would not be believed and marked for a fake. "So I was hoping the company would once again employ me."

Looking over his glasses Alex Sewell held Ellison in a long silent stare before removing them to sit back. "So now that the world has finished with its war and its safe enough to return, you want Livingston to give you back your job."

"It may appear so, Sir, but that is not quite the case" argued Ellison.

"Where were you when the Japs attacked Hong Kong?" asked Sewell again after a long pause.

"Chung-king. At the orphanage" replied Mark.

"And safe it sounds" began the older man, "But here it was a little different. Everyone at the company under sixty had joined the Volunteer Defence Corps. When the Japs attacked we were given a warehouse besides the Star Ferry jetty to defend. We held them off for three days. I hadn't fired a rifle for years. Couldn't claim much damage to the Japs but Jack Saunders made up for me. Must have potted eight or ten of the buggers. We put up a good show, well, most of us did."

Sewell paused picking up his glasses to give Mark a serious look. "I'll give you one thing Ellison. You had Martin Winbolt pegged to a tee. At the warehouse he went to pieces; howling with hysterics for us to surrender. In the camp he was caught stealing from the sick, then turned informer to the Japs."

Sewell again paused tapping his glasses on the table. "I should have let you kill him that day at the Gloucester. Would have done the Company a great favour."

"He's left the Company then?" assumed Mark.

"Oh yes" confirmed Sewell. "Didn't have much choice though. Dysentery got him and with no regrets. We just threw his body in a grave and kicked dirt over him."

Stopping again, Sewell half turned to point out one of two large windows behind him. "They put us in the army camp up from Kowloon, Shampshuipo Camp. Crammed four thousand of us in there but over the years the numbers went down. Japs seen to that; starved us, no medical care. If the malnutrition didn't do you in the diseases did. Scabies, malaria, we all had that, beriberi, body ulcers, colic, diarrhoea, dysentery; we lost a lot of good chaps in that hell hole. I'm sure the only reason I made it out of there was because of Jack Saunders.

Sewell stopped tapping his glasses to ask, "Did you see him at the desk downstairs?"

"We had a short chat" replied Mark.

"The two of us kept each other alive. When he was sick I nursed him and when I was sick he took care of me." Sewell had begun tapping his glasses again, "By standing by the wire up from the shore, I could just see this building. Watched at night as one by one the lights began going out. After the first year they were all out. God only knows what the Japs used the place for but what they did do was clear it out. As you can see they took all the furnishings, filing cabinets, everything. All the Jap Tokyo offices must be well stocked out now."

"But the business Sir, are we trading again?" asked Ellison.

"At the moment, no. There's only a few of us capable of staying on our feet. Most of those who survived the camp have been taken back to England on a hospital ship that came in last week. Knellwood is over in Kowloon sorting out our warehouses and godowns and Bob Grace is doing the same this side of the water. Then there's Tom Villiers and Jerry Pain but both are still in hospital. Jerry should be back shortly but Tom was too ill to be taken on board the hospital ship."

"So you're starting from scratch in order to get the firm back on its feet again, Sir?" presumed Mark.

"Yes, and damned short of time to do it!" exclaimed Sewell angrily. "Head Office in London are sending out a team of chair polishers who spent the war enjoying their London clubs and by God when they get here in about a month's time I want us up and fully running. So I can tell these unwanted interlopers to push off back to their afternoon Madeira and Port."

"They wouldn't be telling head office very favourable tales about the Hong Kong branch if they did. Not unless the building and offices were smartened up a bit" pointed out Mark, looking around the walls.

"That would take paint and emulsion" agreed Sewell "And there's none at any price to be had in Hong Kong."

"I believe I know of a place where it can be found and furniture as well" disclosed Mark still looking about the room.

"Ellison if you can do that you've got your job back" announced Sewell, dropping his glasses and sitting forward. "Where are you going to find all that?"

"Macao" replied Ellison.

"Macao" repeated Sewell.

"Yes, Sir" confirmed Mark, "I know a man over there who, for the right price I'm sure, could supply us with the Crown Jewels."

"When can you go?" asked Sewell.

"Right now if the Macao steamers are running" replied Mark.

"They are. But you're not going dressed like that." Mark had snatched from his trunk a white shirt and pair of dark slacks.

"Sir, before I came I took the liberty of calling around my old bungalow that Kit and I shared. Wang had concealed my trunk. I have other clothes. If I could have your permission to move back I'll get a change before I leave."

"You're welcome too but the Japs have cleared it out" agreed the older man.

"Yes. I noticed but it'll make do for now" replied Mark before asking, "Tell me Sir, are there any goods flowing our way for export?"

"At present, hardly any" answered Sewell.

"Are we solvent?" asked Mark. "Can we purchase?"

"Yes" confirmed Sewell. "Head Office has wired us all we need."

"Good! Because if you would give me the authority I would like to see if I can start getting goods coming to us from the town and cities along the West River. Once finished in Macao I could get started on that right away" offered Ellison.

"Could you manage all that?" asked Sewell with a look of doubt, holding his glasses in both hands.

"I know the river well" assured Mark, hurriedly adding, "From my orphanage work."

"Alright. Agreed. However I have someone here who I would like you to take to Macao to assist you" began Sewell now sitting back. "His name is Ken Chung. You may remember his father, George, he supervised the coolie gangs loading and unloading on our number three jetty. George used to smuggle food to us in the camp but one night the Japs caught him, shot him then dragged him into the camp and finished him with bayonets. Ken then took over. Did his best to keep the food coming until the Japs packed it in. He's down the hall in another office. When I left the camp he was the first man I put on the payroll."

"He sounds handy" replied Mark, "Be glad to have him."

"Right" said Sewell standing up. You get off, sort yourself out. Be back in two hours. By that time I'll have the financial side of all this dealt with."

"Just one more thing Sir" spoke up Mark also standing. "After I've finished everything that can be done I'll be going on to Chungking to pick up a girl."

"Good God! You haven't gone and got yourself married?" asked Sewell with a slight start.

"No. She's my goddaughter" announced Mark.

"Goddaughter?" repeated Sewell, "Well you can tell me all about it later.

"And also Sir" continued Ellison, "Kit, did he get into the RAF after all?"

"Yes he did." Sewell's expression became sombre, "I received a cable from the Air Ministry a week ago. Seems Kit's bomber didn't return from a mission over Essen in May last year."

"No word" asked Mark tentatively.

Sewell shook his head.

"And Rosina?" Is she safe?" enquired Mark respectfully.

"Oh, yes" answered Sewell putting an arm around his shoulder to walk him towards the door. "Got away on the boat in the summer of forty-one. Sailed off across the Pacific. Said she was going to cross America and sail to England to find her husband. Last I heard she only got as far as Los Angeles. Knowing Ros she's probably married and divorced Errol Flynn by now."

--oOo--

Fortunately Macao fulfilled all of Mark's hopes. Being a Portuguese Colony, it had remained a neutral enclave on the Japanese occupied Chinese coast throughout the war. As a neutral, so long as they did not import war goods, it had free access to the world's markets. There, with the assistance of Howard Ching, Mark and Ken Chung were able to track down and purchase most of what they had on Alex Sewell's list. An added bonus was achieved by Ken in turning up an elevator engineer.

After a week, leaving Ken to finish off and see to the shipping of what they had obtained, Mark, hiring a motor launch and crew, set off north up the Pearl River to its junction with the West River. For the following five weeks, with the aid of his hired launch, he, steering into the river's seaward flow, visited villages, towns and cities along its banks in his search for commodities foreign markets were eager to secure. This was at first not easy as plundering Japanese and nationalist troops had bled the country. However, Mark, known throughout the Province as a recent guerrilla leader of trust and proposing fair offers for whatever merchandise and wares that had been retained, soon began acquiring goods and placing orders.

Finishing his pursuit at Pin-lo on the Fu River, a tributary of the West, he released his launch, sending it and the crew back to Macao. Then he persuaded a lorry driver to drive him to Chungking. A toilsome journey over demanding roads in an American truck salvaged from a Burma Road scrapheap and driven on black market petrol.

On reaching the orphanage Mark presented himself at Mirran Harrington's office. As always, she was delighted to see him, more so now that the war was over and he was safe.

"Mark I've never told you this before but of all the years I've been here at the orphanage the one thing I dreaded finding myself having to do was at some stage having to tell your goddaughter that you were dead" confessed Mirran.

"That's something that's sat very uneasily with me as well" agreed Mark "But now we both can look forward to a happy future for her."

"This time you've come to take her with you?" guessed Mirran.

"Yes! Hong Kong. I've returned to my old firm, Livingston's and will be setting up home for us there" explained Mark.

"Is Tender Mist aware of this?" asked the woman.

"Yes" replied Mark "On my last visits a year ago I told her that once the war was over we would be a family together."

"So you will be taking her now?" assumed Mirran.

"On my way through the city I stopped at the airline office I've used before. They seem confident of arranging seats for us before the end of the week." Mark explained.

"Well, you'll be pleased to know we started her on the English lessons you asked of" informed Mirran "And her friend, Velvet Rainbow. They have to do everything together or not at all."

"Will she miss the orphanage?" asked Ellison.

"Most do" began the woman. "Remember this is China. Once they leave us, no matter how well we have educated them, life can be harsh for a young girl with no family to support her. But in Tender Mist's case I hardly think she will be yearning to return.

"Hardly would be correct. Hong Kong has much to keep a young girl's mind on other things" assured Mark.

"The classes are about to take their lunch break. I'll just collect Tender Mist for you" offered Mirran. "She will be thrilled to see her godfather again."

Mark remained in Mirran's office for only a minute before deciding he would rather greet his goddaughter in the hallway. There, calling to him as she approached he found Madam Sun Yet-sen "Major Lin so good to see you and safe from the war."

"And I you, Madam Sun" replied Mark bowing his head.

"You are here to see your goddaughter?" she asked.

"Yes Madam Sun" replied Mark "To collect her in fact and I'm no longer in the army. I was given my release on the war ending."

"Good! I'm pleased that is so" replied Madam Sun "And where are you taking our loved one?"

"Hong Kong, Madam Sun" replied Ellison.

The following few minutes were spent with Mark explaining his return to Livingston's, his future plans and those for Tender Mist.

This was interrupted when Mirran returned, Tender Mist holding her hand. Breaking away she ran to Mark throwing her arms around his waist. "Godfather! Godfather!"

She was nine now and in her sky blue orphanage dress, just oh so pretty, though Mark.

Briefly leaving him she gave Madam Sun a hug and a smile before returning to take his hand. "Godfather, how long are you staying?"

Mark was taken aback by this because she spoke in English.

"Only a few days" he replied, also in English, which caused his goddaughter's face to sadden. "But" continued Mark, "That is because I've come to collect you and take you home with me."

"Home? Godfather! Home? Where?" Her face had now exploded into a glittering smile and was again speaking Chinese.

"Hong Kong" replied Ellison.

"Is it far?" she asked. The smile fading.

"Yes, very far goddaughter. We will have to fly there in a plane" explained Mark.

"Too far to visit here again?" she asked.

Mark looked at Mirran Harrington before answering "Yes, my sweet. Hong Kong is a very long way away."

The young girl, her face downcast and her voice solemn then disclosed "I have something I want to take with me."

Again Mark looked to Mirran before replying "Well is it heavy because going to Hong Kong on a plane, it can't be too heavy."

"No, not too heavy" answered Tender Mist.

"Well if I can lift it we'll take it" declared Ellison "What is it?"

"I'll show you" said his goddaughter before turning about and running off.

"It's not the music box?" Mark asked of Mirran. To be answered with a shrug.

"Do you have plans for the immediate future Madam Sun, returning to Hong Kong or Nanking?" asked Mark, keenly interested in what one of China's leading women of note would be embarking on.

"No! No plans Mister Ellison" she replied "I may remain here until the war has been decided."

"The war? But the war is over" replied Mark, puzzled.

"No. Not that war" she corrected, I'm talking about the one my brother-in-law is about to declare against Mao and his supporters."

"The Generalissimo declaring war on the communist. But that can't be possible. We have only just defeated the Japs and the communist were our allies" voiced Ellison astounded.

"It's true and about to happen" confirmed the woman calmly.

"But why?" asked Mark still trying to make sense of this news.

"Chiang has always hated the communists. They stand for everything he is against. Unity of the people, rights for the workers and peasants, release from enslavement to rich landowners and factory owners" answered Madam Sun without emotion.

"When?" Ellison's one word was spoken with haste.

"Soon" was the woman's reply.

"Madam Sun" began Mark, his words heavy with urgency, "I've a letter I've been trying to find a way of sending. It was impossible while we were fighting the dwarfs. It's to the surviving Lin daughter, Ann."

"I remember her" replied Madam Sun.

"I left her in Anhwei Province at the village Pointed Sword defended. I'm desperate for the letter to reach her" explained Mark.

"Ann, she is special to you?" asked the woman.

"Yes. Very special" replied Mark.

"Give me your letter. I will see what can be done" offered Madam Sun before suddenly breaking out in a beaming smile. "Mister Ellison it looks as if you will have your arms full during your plane journey."

Mark, turning about to discover why Madam Sun Yet-sen was smiling, found Tender Mist had returned, her expression pleading. For besides her stood holding his goddaughter's hand, eyes cast humbly to the floor, was Velvet Rainbow.

At first puzzled, in an instant he suddenly realised that for Tender Mist the most important issue on the face of the earth at that moment was that she and Velvet Rainbow should not be parted.

"Well let's see if we can manage this extra piece of baggage?" pondered Mark teasingly, as he stepped forward to lift Velvet Rainbow into his arms to bounce her up and down twice. "Oh, no! I think we'll make the trip to Hong Kong with this alright" smiling at the girl.

Without saying a word she wrapped her arms around his head hugging him tight. While Tender Mist clutched his waist crying "Godfather! Oh Godfather!"

Turning to Mirran Harrington Mark cast his eyes to the ceiling. "You best bring those two into my office Mister Ellison" she suggested. "We'll have to see their documentation's properly dealt with. It looks as if you'll be arriving in Hong Kong with two goddaughters instead of one."

CHAPTER 26
You can only go halfway into the darkest forest then you are coming out the other side.
Chinese Proverb

Alex Sewell was doing his level best to appear attentive but was finding the effort a struggle. He was sat at a table in the exclusive Shanghai Club on the Shanghai Bund listening to local businessmen discuss trade. Livingston before the war had strong commercial dealings the length of the Yangtze River to Hankow. All these though were lost to the Company with the arrival of the Japanese. With heavy staff losses due to deaths resulting from enlistment in the forces and of those who died as prisoners of the Japanese, most, experienced China hands, Livingston's recovery was severely handicapped. To the extent of relinquishing their interests in the lower Yangtze Basin. Now, the spring of 1947, London had decided it was time to reclaim their pre-war holdings.

Sewell had just completed a three week fact-finding mission down the Yangtze visiting all the company's previous properties only to find all were now in Chinese hands with the river trade well taken over by the Shanghai based business firms.

Shanghai had been a Concessions port in which years before China had given foreign traders a warrant to set up business in the fields and marshes on the banks of the Whangpoo River. With lavish privileges the post, in time, became the richest commercial city in Asia. With Pearl Harbour this ended, all westerners being put in internment camps for the duration of the war. During the war it was agreed by Britain, America and France, that these special concession rights should end. But world trade was world trade. The employees of the big merchant establishments, Jardines, Butterfield, Baldwins and others, more or less walked out of the camps and straight back to their desks to resume as before, sweeping up the Yangtze to recover their war losses which was why Alex Sewell was in a depressive mood. All dealings, he had found, were firmly in the hands of others. He had been sent on what looked to be a hopeless cause.

Alex's presence in the Club was as a guest of an old friend who was the branch manager for Sassons, another of the large trading companies.. There were four at the table, the other three all ex-camp inmates, had welcomed Sewell to their Club as a kindred spirit as he had also been confined in Hong Kong. Although when the topic of being behind Japanese wire was brought up Alex held his tongue for in their conversations it soon became clear that there was a vast difference between being interned and being a prisoner of war.

Sewell had accepted his friend's invitation, not because he was hoping to perhaps be offered tips or encouragement for future prospects, for he had decided that morning his report to London would be one stating that any further attempt to re-establish their pre-war holdings would be a mammoth undertaking. No, his real reason for coming was in order to see this famous building first hand. This prestigious all-male Club was renowned throughout Asia as the most esteemed in all of Shanghai. Its huge door and high entrance columns lead into the bar room that Sewell was sitting in, next to the reputed longest bar in the world, one hundred feet. Beyond that was the billiard room. The tables now raised on wooden platforms due to the frustrated Japanese who took the building over during the war and sawing the legs on initially finding they were too tiny to play. And its accommodation services were beyond reproach for those who live in. With a house menu that could not be faulted, as Sewell could now vouch for, having just been superbly dined.

Doing his best to look interested in the conversational exchanges around the table his attention was disturbed by a waiter appearing at his side, presenting a silver tray. On it was an envelope.

"Mister Sewell" said the waiter.

Thanking the waiter and excusing himself to his table companions he removed the envelope to read on the outside 'Mister Alexander Sewell' which he found curious for he had told no-one he was dining at the Shanghai. But the note inside was even more curious.

My Dear Mister Sewell

It has come to my attention that your endeavour along the Yangtze has presented you with grave doubts. I assure you that if we could meet I will dispel the majority of these to your satisfaction.

Should you choose to accept my offer you will find a driver and car awaiting you at the front of the Club. With Humble Regards Daniel Lao

It only took Sewell a moment to decide to take a chance on the note. Standing, he made an excuse of being called away. Then with a mix of thank yous, apologies and handshakes, he left the Club.

Standing at the Club entrance with the Bund before him, the Whangpoo stuffed full of all manner of shipping, Alex paused only a moment before hurrying down its stone steps.

"Yes" he responded to a young man in smart western dress who smiled as he held the car's rear door open, having asked, "Mister Sewell?"

As a noisy tramcar clattered by the driver pulled out into the traffic to drive north down the Bund.

'I shouldn't be doing this' reflected Sewell, sitting back in the car's rear seat. The trip alone called for a younger man. Now here he was dashing off in a strange city in response to a note straight out of a Hollywood second feature. This is more suited to someone like Ellison and would have had the job, except for his having just returned from another of his unsuccessful excursions north, somewhere towards the Yellow River. That was the third time he had made the attempt to find someone special, he told those who asked.

Ellison, to Alex Sewell, had become a contradiction, someone he could rely on and trust but always in his mind there was this doubt of the man's character because of his lack of involvement during the war years. His country had been under threat of annihilation but chose to turn his back and take up the caring of Chinese orphans instead. Because of this, no matter how much he admired and appreciated his work and devotion to Livingston, Sewell still could not bring himself to calling him by his first name.

On the driver turning into Nanking Road, they were confronted by the inevitable traffic jam of pedicabs, rickshaws, broad heavily-laden wheel-barrows and rushing people. On entering Bubbling Well Road, just after passing Yates, the driver turned into a courtyard besides a three storey business building. Taking Sewell to the top floor the driver knocked at a large, black lacquered door. He then opened it and bowed while announcing in Chinese, "Mister Sewell. I have brought him."

"Do come in Mister Sewell" called a voice from within.

On entering Alex was met by a slim man, perhaps thirty or so, of average height but with a scar on one cheek, coming around his desk to greet him. At the front of the desk was a chair while to the right of the desk there was a drinks cabinet sat against the wall. The room itself was spacious and well lit by a large bay window overlooking a highly manicured sports ground. From the high ceiling hung an electric fan, while on the wall behind the desk a sword was mounted.

"It is most kind of you to come, Mister Sewell. I am Daniel Lao. I sent you the note and I do apologise for disturbing you at lunch" introduced the man. As they shook hands, Lao guiding Alex to the chair in front of his desk.

"You must forgive me for being so presumptuous in sending my note to you so unwarned but when I was told you were leaving tomorrow I thought it best to get in touch as quickly as possible" explained Lao.

"You knew I had booked a flight back to Hong Kong and you knew where I could be found for lunch" questioned Sewell mildly disturbed.

"This is Shanghai Mister Sewell. No-one has secrets here. Besides, you are a businessman, this is a business city. It is in many people's interests to know for what reason you are here. Livingston's have been absent from the lower Yangtze trade for ten years now, so you have roused questions by some as to your intentions."

"But from your note, you are not one of them" Sewell was quick to point out.

"Your journey down the river could hardly be called a pilgrimage or prompted by nostalgia" submitted Lao knowingly, "What you looked at and the questions you asked laid your intentions bare."

"I wasn't on a secret mission Mister Lao" admitted Sewell "I hope the Shanghai business community isn't treating it that way."

"Perhaps some" replied Lao lifting his hands off his desk to spread them slightly. "But if I may ask, were your findings favourable or not?"

"Again, from your note Mister Lao, I'm presuming you know the answer to that question already" replied Sewell.

"You're going to tell your London Board that all Livingston's owning are now in Chinese hands and if they wish to resume trading along the Yangtze the Company would have to either rent, buy or build the facilities to do so" surmised Lao.

"Rather along those lines" confirmed Sewell. "Whichever option they choose, if any, it will be an expensive venture. They may decide to postpone or shelve it completely."

"Suppose you would be able to inform your London gentlemen that their old holdings were available to them again for no charge" proposed Lao removing his arms from the table and sitting back.

Sewell didn't reply right away and then with suspicion. "They would be most interested but how would this come about?" Alex now on his guard, after all this was Shanghai. The reputed lair of tough unscrupulous criminal gangs.

"When the Japanese were forced to leave all Livingston's assets were taken into care by one family. They, as you have seen, have not been converted to other purposes. Just held in readiness for future resumption. This family, before the Japanese came, had a successful working association with Livingston's and was hoping to do so again. They have appointed me as their agent which is the reason I invited you here so abruptly, to put to you their offer" explained Lao.

"But why the long wait? If they were so keen to start trading with Livingston's again they should have contacted our Hong Kong office?" pointed out the Englishman in puzzlement.

"Because of an old Chinese curse, Mister Sewell, patience, of which we have an abundance. They were waiting for you to make the first move" informed Lao, half smiling.

"Ridiculous" exclaimed Sewell, his eyebrows raising as he looked away for a moment before returning to Lao, "Surely as their agent, contacting us was your first obligation?"

"Assuredly so" agreed Lao "And would have; except the family only requested my services upon your arrival."

"Is it possible to meet your clients?" asked Sewell "I would like to have some firm assurances from them that I can pass on to the Board in London."

"This could be arranged for tomorrow" agreed Lao.

"Good" responded Sewell. "I'll cancel my flight when I return to my hotel."

"Splendid" replied Lao, "Now, can I offer you a drink to cement our forthcoming partnership?"

"That's most kind" accepted Sewell looking at his watch; it was four o'clock, plenty of time left in the day to learn more of how this unexpected venture would be transacted.

"What would you like Mister Sewell?" asked Lao now standing at the drinks cabinet, the doors open.

"Oh, Whiskey will be fine if you have it. And please call me Alex" replied Sewell.

"Only if you call me Daniel" countered Lao.

"Agreed" said Sewell pointing to the wall above Lao's desk, "I've been admiring your sword. You know I have a chap in Hong Kong who also has a sword mounted on the wall above his desk. Says it was a gift."

"That would be Mark I should think. How is he?" responded Lao nonchalantly while pouring whiskey into a glass.

"Why, yes" replied Alex in a stunned tone "How did you know his name?"

"Oh Mark and I were together for a time during the war" Lao had picked up a pitcher of water.

"You worked at the orphanage as well then?" assumed Sewell.

"Orphanage?" Lao paused.

"Yes! The orphanage in Chungking where Ellison spent the war" answered Sewell.

"Chungking?" uttered Lao unsure of what Sewell was saying.

"Well I'm sure he told me it was Chungking. Spent eight years there looking after waifs" Sewell confirmed quite confidently only to watch with bewilderment as Lao rocked against the cabinet in laughter.

"Mark! Orphanage!" chuckled Lao.

"Well that's what he told me" defended Sewell mystified by Lao's reactions. "For some reason that's the way he decided to sit out the war."

"Well that may be what he thinks is best to tell you" began Lao recovering himself "But I'm sure it's time you at least should know the truth. On the occasion of Mark and I first meeting he was stood over a Jap soldier holding a machine-gun in his hands which he had just used to shoot him down with."

"Water?" Lao was holding up the pitcher.

Sewell, taking a moment to comprehend what he had just been told, waved a hand. "Ah! No Daniel. Hold the water and make that a double."

CHAPTER 27
If you suspect a man don't employ him and if you employ him, don't suspect him.
Chinese Proverb

Turning from his office window, having been stood thinking deeply as he stared across to Kowloon and the brown hills of the New Territories in the distance, Mark Ellison reached down to press the speak switch on his desk intercom. "Yes Lucy?"

"Mister Ellison" came his secretary's voice "Jack just called me from reception. Mister Sewell phoned from the airport to confirm he had arrived back. He's taking a taxi and will be with us in half an hour or so. And, he asked that you be here on his arrival."

"Thank you Lucy." Mark returned to his staring.

Alex probably wants to discuss the outcome of his Yangtze trip thought Mark but only dallied on this for a moment. He had another worry on his mind. One he had been trying to resolve for almost two years, getting to and returning with Ann Lin.

When Mark returned from Chungking with his two goddaughters Alex Sewell gave him and the girls the use of a four bedroom house on the Peak that had belonged to a company official who had died in the prison camp, a property that he now had taken ownership of. The girls were placed in school and Mark joined with Alex, the other camp survivors, a few new recruits like Ken Chung, and former staff that had survived three and a half years of terrifyingly brutish Japanese occupation, in putting Livingston's back in proper functioning order.

This, over the next eighteen months they were successful in doing. Establishing themselves north and west along the China coast and deep into its heartland as far north as Hankow. All this time though, as hard as he worked for the company, concurrently he was striving just as hard to find a way of reaching Ann.

The obstacle that was blocking all contact with her occurred because during the years after he had left Sweet Water, it and most of the country around, had become a communist area. With Chiang Kai-shek now at war with the communists all entry into that part of Anhwei Province, Mark found, had been bared to him by the Nationalist authorities. Three times he had tried and each time he was turned away. He had sent letters through neutral embassies, legations, the Red Cross and refugee agencies. But most came back and of the others none produced a response from Ann.

Every waken hour of Mark's last six years, Ann had been in his thoughts. Thoughts of his last night at Sweet Water when they had stood under her pear tree together and he had taken her in his arms and told her he loved her. And the next morning when she found him beside Chuck and Ruth's grave and he swore to her he would return. For the following four years of the war, on the long hard marches with his Kwangsi guerrilla bands it was the remembered taste of the tea she made for them that had caused the distances to fly. The smell of her hair that made the long hours lying in ambush pass with tolerable acceptance. And, when racked in delirium, shivering and sweating with bouts of malaria, it was the memory of her entrancing smile and tender voice that gave him the will to recover.

--oOo--

On returning from Ken Chung's office with a list of names he and Ken had provisionally chosen for Yangtze duty, should Alex Sewell inform them the company was to resume trading there, he found himself being hailed by Alex stepping out of the elevator.

"Ellison! Your office, now!"

Following Sewell into his secretary's outer officer she greeted Alex with a warm smile, "Good afternoon Mister Sewell" to be replied to with a grump.

Lucy, giving Ellison a 'what's he mad about look' he could only reply with a shrug.

Following Sewell into his own office he, the list of names held in one hand, stopped well short of his desk as the older man dropping his coat and briefcase on a chair walked around it. Halting he pointed at two framed Chinese ideographs hung below his mounted sword. "What do these say?"

"Pointed Sword" answered Mark moving forward to place the sheet of names on his desk.

"As in Pointed Sword Brigade I presume?" shot back Sewell lowering his arm.

Before Mark could reply the older man spoke again. "While in Shanghai I met a good friend of yours, Daniel Lao. Does that name ring a bell with you?"

Mark, standing quiet, shook his head but suspected his secret of the last few years was out of the bag.

"Well no matter" continued Sewell "Because he said tell Mark, or should I say, White Thunder, that Loyal Monkey wishes him well."

On hearing the name Mark's right hand clenched into a fist with elation.

Seeing this Sewell pounced, "Oh you know him now do you?"

"If Loyal Monkey's alive then that means that someone who should be dead, is" announced Mark as much to himself as Sewell.

"Oh he's alive alright. He and I spent two hours getting drunk together. Told me a very interesting story." Then turning away to glance out the window, "God, I haven't been drunk since twenty-nine when the world stock market crashed. His driver more or less carried me up to my hotel room. Told me his name." Sewell paused for a moment to think, "Joyous Thrust."

"Joyous Trust" corrected Ellison.

Alex looked at Mark for some seconds before raising his arms to his front and asking in an exasperated tone, "Mark! Why in the name of all that's holy didn't you tell me you spent the war with the Chinese Army fighting the Japs?"

Ellison, relieved at last that there was no longer a need to conceal his past to this man and grateful that he learned of this from a distant source, Mark had sworn Wang and the girls to secrecy, he had no control over, pointed to his chair behind the desk, "Would you care to sit down, sir?"

"No" snapped Sewell "And don't ever call me Sir again. It's Alex. Now out with it!"

"Alex. Look" began Ellison, "When I arrived here after being released from the Chinese Army you were only out of that hellish prison camp a few weeks. You were hardly fit enough to sit at that broken down table you had and write, let alone start to rebuild a major trading establishment from scratch. Yet, there you were, still sick, recovering from starvation, in need of at least six months convalescing but instead you were determined to make Livingston's a success again. Then in pops I, someone who had told you he was resigning from the company to care for children at a Chinese orphanage, now returning to ask for his job back, conveniently just as the war ends. And, with an excuse for not serving elsewhere in the war because he had all the time been a soldier in the Chinese Army. I didn't, at that time, think you would have believed me and more than likely have thrown me out on my ear as a phoney Hollywood swashbuckler shooting a line in the hope of getting his job back. Besides, you had just received word that Kit had been missing for over a year and was probably dead. My excuse for not doing what he did would probably have sounded even less plausible to you."

Sewell, having waited for Mark to finish stood quiet, then slowly moved to his chair behind the desk and sat. Sliding a chair near the desk, Mark followed suit, asking of the silent man, "Loyal Monkey, how is he?"

"Oh Daniel" answered Sewell as if lost in thought, "He's fine. I told him I want him working for Livingston's. He said he would consider it.

"Hope so" replied Ellison to this, "He can be relied on."

"Damn it Mark" cursed Sewell in a low voice "You owe me a huge apology for not telling me before this that you were in the war fighting the Japs. For almost two years now I've been regarding you as at best a conscientious objector and now I find out you spent… what, six years fighting the Japs."

"Eight" answered Mark.

"And you did it with the rank of Captain?" continued Alex.

"Well, no. Not at the end" disclosed Ellison modestly.

"What were you then?" queried Sewell.

"Well, in fact, a Lieutenant-Colonel" replied Mark.

"God in heaven above" cried Alex in a controlled voice bolting from his chair; his head flung back addressing the ceiling above him before looking again at Mark to confirm, "A Colonel?"

"Only a Lieutenant-Colonel, Alex and my command was with guerrilla forces."

"Guerrillas?" repeated Sewell, "How many?"

"With guerrillas numbers were a bit difficult to keep account of" explained Mark seeking to minimise his, what may be sounding like, exaggerated importance, "Three perhaps four thousand. I had a large undertaking in Kwangsi Province.

"Four thousand! Four thousand!" exclaimed Alex. Again, eyes raised, beseeching the ceiling once more to join in his astonishment, "God in Heaven above!"

CHAPTER 28
If I keep a green bough in my heart, the singing bird will come.
Chinese Proverb

On the Friday following Alex's return from Shanghai he called a meeting of all heads of headquarter departments. Being in charge of personnel, Mark was there, as was Ken Chung, responsible for storages. There were very few of the older members of the firm of ten years earlier. The prison camp had thinned Livingston's ranks appallingly. Of those sat in a semi-circle around Alex Sewell's desk only two were over forty. The rest were thirties and late twenties. One, who was now the shipping manager, one of the early London send-outs, Mark remembered from his first departmental meetings when he had suggested to Alex that they should retire Jack Saunders from his job and give it to a pretty young thing to give reception a more favourable appearance. Mark never forgot the look Sewell gave him before, without turning, pointed out the window behind him at Hong Kong's Grand Waterway while saying, "Son, the day that you get Jack Saunders railroaded out of his job and into the street is the day you'll find yourself floating face down out there."

The meeting was an early one, eight-thirty, called in response to a message from London that had been received late the night before, confirming Alex's suggestions for re-establishment of their Yangtze branches.

It was nearing ten now with the meeting about to break up when the intercom on Sewell's desk sounded "Yes Nancy?"

"Oh Mister Sewell, I'm sorry to disturb the meeting but a message has just come up from Jack at reception for Mister Ellison. It seems there is a Miss Ann Lin asking to see him."

"Thank you Nancy" replied Alex looking up to ask Mark if he had an appointment with a Miss Ann Lin, but was too late. Where he had been sat, the chair, tipped back was spinning on the floor and he, running for the door. Haring past an astonished Nancy, in the hall he ignored the elevator and raced, zigzagging others, down the two flights of stairs. Reaching the reception foyer he slowed to a brisk walk towards Jack at his reception desk. As their eyes met Saunders nodded towards a corner where those having to wait could sit and relax. There, her arms wrapped across her chest, eyes cast to the floor, sat Ann. Hair cut neck length, shabby dark village jacket and trousers, her cloth sandals tattered and she looking slightly older, where things Ellison only faintly noticed. It was Ann and to him that was all that mattered.

"Hello" he said.

Ann, conscious of her appearance and wishing to draw as little attention to herself as possible, fleetingly looked up to reply to the voice, "Hello" returning her eyes to the floor. Then, realising that the handsome, smartly dressed, dark haired man stood before her was Mark she leapt to her feet "Oh Mark, I am so sorry. I didn't recognise you."

"No need to apologise Ann" assured Mark "It was worth it to see the look on your lovely face."

"Oh Mark, don't say that. I know what I look like. I shouldn't be here like this but I knew of no other way of finding you other than coming here to your work address."

"You did the right thing. Now let's go upstairs to my office where we can talk." Taking her hand he tried to lead her to the elevator but she froze.

"No Mark, I can't go with you. I'm such a sight. I'll be an embarrassment to you" pleaded Ann.

"Ann, to me you look stunning and in no way an embarrassment" reassured Mark. Gently pulling her to him then leading her across the foyer to the elevator.

Few took any notice as they crossed the reception entrance. Only Jack Saunders watched with interest. Since Mark rejoined the company this was the first time he had seen him look at a woman the way he was looking at this Ann Lin and never had he seen him take one by her hand. The talk he heard around the building of Mark in regards to women was always the same. At clubs, parties and company social functions he would mix, charm and dance with all but never flirt, apparently contented with his bachelor existence. Now here he was showing tenderness towards a woman in the same way Jack remembered expressing it to his own wife fifteen years earlier.

"That's the first elevator I have ridden in for ten years" murmured Ann to Mark as they left it to enter his office.

"Lucy. This is Ann Lin. A very good friend of mine" introduced Mark still holding Ann's hand. "Could you be a dream and order us coffee from the canteen?"

Only able to exchange the briefest of hellos with Lucy, Mark sped Ann into his office. Closing the door he pulled her into his arms. "Ann. Ann" he whispered resting his cheek on her hair, "I missed you. I missed you so desperately."

Easing herself back Ann looked into his eyes asking, "Mark, you're not married or engaged?"

"There is no-one" he replied. Holding her eyes with his "Ann. I've just spent an eternity longing for and cursing myself for ever leaving you. All that time you were the only woman in my life. In my dreams when I slept and never out of my mind when awake. When the war ended I tried so hard to return to Sweet Water but was always turned away. I sent so many letters I've forgotten the number."

"I'm sorry Mark. We were apart so long I had to ask. I worried so much that you would find another." Ann had halted him by placing a finger on his lips "And I did get a letter, just one."

Pulling from a jacket pocket she held up an envelope stained and worn.

"Here, let's sit down" said Mark taking her hand again to lead her towards a corner of his office where four leather seated chairs and a low dragon-legged coffee table were arranged.

"This is the letter I gave to Madam Sun in Chunking" declared Mark fondly "Of all the letters it would be hers that found you."

"You said so much" replied Ann "Since it arrived I have read it over and over so many times. Do you still have two goddaughters?"

"Oh Yes. They're both almost eleven now but they no longer use their Chinese names" disclosed Mark. "Since arriving in Hong Kong they have taken an English name. Tender Mist chose Tina and Velvet Rainbow decided on Victoria, Vicki. But tell me Sweet Water. What has become of everyone?"

"Oh goodness Mark" sighed Ann leaning back in her chair, Ellison still holding her hand. "After you left us the Japanese stayed away but they did send planes to bomb us from time to time. When the war ended many of Pointed Sword left to return home to their families. But a large number stayed. The Nationalist Army marched through the district, took a lot of our food. Then the Communists moved back and stayed."

"Stands Erect. How is he?" asked Mark.

"He and Still Willows were married soon after you had gone" she informed him.

"Good! Good!" Mark was squeezing Ann's hand.

"They have two boys now" continued the woman "She is hoping to become a doctor after the war with the Nationalist is over, but is missing Stands Erect. He is in the north fighting with Mao's Communist Army and he's a Colonel now."

"His war; It's been so long. I only hope he gets through it all" reflected Mark. Then asking "Helmsman; Where is he?"

"With Stands Erect" replied Ann.

"That's splendid. They will look after each other. And Blind Ox?" he asked.

"He commands the district. A communist Captain and respected by all" Ann informed him with a smile.

"And you?" questioned Mark "How is it you've arrived here?"

"Dirty hands" replied Ann pulling her hand away from Mark's. "Six months ago a man arrived at Sweet Water who said he had been sent from Yenan, before the Nationalists captured it, with orders from the Politburo to deal with all political matters in the district. He then disbanded the District Committee and appointed his own, with him in charge. We old committee members found we no longer had a say in the day-to-day running of things and all was now in the hands of this new man. He was forever calling us to meetings and exhorting us to work harder to show our loyalty to the Communist cause. We found out he had spent his war at a desk in a cave at Yenan."

"It sounds as if he didn't have the right understanding of how the district should be properly functioning" interrupted Mark knowing the land and people as he had.

"Oh Mark, the things he did were so wrong" said Ann. Her voice heavy with despair. "After he arrived the happiness in the district we knew began to disappear. Then one day not long ago he called us to another meeting in the market square. I had been moulding bowls on the clay potter's wheel.

That was when I realised I no longer had a useful future to look forward to at Sweet Water. For that afternoon I found myself, twenty-nine years old, sitting on a wooden bench, under a straw roof, listening to a man I had no respect for and my hands were dirty and they still are."

Mark, saying nothing, reached forward and took both hers in his.

"That night" Ann continued "High Heart found me crying in my room. All he said was 'tomorrow we leave'.

"The only one in the village I told of my leaving was Still Willows. She was sad I was going but understood, to everyone else I was just off for a few days on a tour of visits." Ann attempted to ease her hands from Mark's but he held them fast raising them to his lips to kiss the tips. "We walked and walked. When we arrived at a railway we became like refugees. I used money Loyal Monkey left with me to bribe our way onto trains, first to Hankow then finally here. Since leaving Sweet Water we have been travelling for three or four weeks."

"You say we?" asked Mark.

There's just the two of us" replied Ann "I and High Heart. I left Sweet Water just to get away but High Heart was set that we should go only here to Hong Kong. It was with rashness on my part but High Heart was determined that finding you was the only sensible thing to do."

"Wise of him; so wise" Mark assued her before asking "Where is he now?"

I left him on the front steps. He wouldn't come in" replied Ann.

At that moment the intercom on Mark's desk sounded.

"Mister Ellison your coffee for you and your guest has arrived."

"Thank you Lucy. I'll come out for it" acknowledged Mark.

Then excusing himself to Ann, he hurried into his secretary's office to take the tray, with a thank you, for the canteen waiter.

"Are you to be disturbed?" asked Lucy, a mother with a teenage family.

"Yes I am" emphasized Mark returning the woman's smile.

At that moment Alex Sewell entered from the hallway "Oh wonderful Alex, I want you to meet someone. Come through."

"So, this is the someone special you were trying to get to so often?" guessed Sewell on being introduced to Ann. "I see now why."

"Yes! Very special" confirmed Mark.

The three chatted together for several minutes before Mark asked Alex if he would mind keeping Ann company while he sought out her travelling companion. --oOo—

"Old friend" greeted Mark having found High Heart sat on a bench in the small park across the street from his office building.

"White Thunder" replied the older man. There was no smile but Mark recognised his unemotional expression of contentment.

"You brought Fallen Dove to me." High Heart accepted he was being thanked.

"It was you who made her laugh again. Made her smile, happy" replied High Heart.

"We are in love" confessed Mark.

"Yes. I seen" confirmed High Heart nodding.

Although reluctant at first, Mark was able to coax High Heart into the building where Jack Sanders took him in hand, sitting him in his small office behind reception next to the telephone switchboard room.

Just as High Heart was beginning to sip the tea Jack had ordered for him two chattering girls came skipping across the foyer up to Saunders' desk.

"Hello Uncle Jack" together they cried.

"Never mind hello, Uncle Jack" reproached Saunders, "What are you two nymphs doing away from school?"

"Half day" smiled Vicki as a woman in her late forties approached the desk. "The girls asked to stop and see their godfather before returning home" she informed Jack. This was Evelyn, the girl's Chinese nanny.

"Right you two; but first you must nip into my office and introduce yourselves to an old friend of your godfather.'

Stepping through the office doorway the two girls bowing, introduced themselves in Chinese.

Reaching forward High Heart took a hand of each smiling and repeating their names "Tender Mist, Velvet Rainbow. You are truly pearls in the palm."

--oOo--

When Mark re-entered his office he found Ann and Alex laughing together over his kept secret of being in the Chinese Army. To Mark, it was wonderful to see Ann sparkle with such merriment. Soon after Alex excused himself the girls entered the office primed again by Jack Saunders to be on their best behaviour.

As soon as they came in the room Ann was up and moving to meet them. Smiling, she returned their bow shaking each' hands as they introduced themselves. "I'm Ann, your godfather's very good friend and that is what you can call me, Ann." Then taking a hand of each, guided them to the chairs "Now I've waited a long time to talk to you two so you must tell me everything you have been doing while in Hong Kong."

With Ann absorbed in talk Mark drew Evelyn aside and began whispering instructions. He had waited for this day for so long and now he was going to make sure it unfolded the way he dreamed of. At noon a taxi took Evelyn, Ann and the girls home for lunch with Mark bringing High Heart along three hours later.

Parking his car in the garage he took High Heart up the outside stairway to the one-bedroom flat above the garage. Intended for a resident chauffeur, Mark had never had need of one and was used mostly as a guesthouse for visitors staying over. After being shown the rooms Mark and High Heart sat on the balcony that ran the width of the garage and overlooked the gardens, the drive, the rear of the house and Hong Kong harbour with Kowloon and its hills beyond.

"It is traditional in England, old friend, for the suitor of a daughter to ask the father for his permission to marry her." Mark's words broke the silence between them since they had sat down.

"I believe that the spirit of Fallen Dove's dead father has been with her for many years" began High Heart in answer, while gazing towards Kowloon. "He has seen who her heart longs for and would not refuse if that one asked."

"Forgive my forwardness my friend." Ventured Mark in a humble tone, "It is unworthy of you I know but it would give me great happiness if you would live here in these rooms. My goddaughters like sitting on this balcony. If you were here they would have a very good reason to come more often."

"If that would give your two pearls of the heart enjoyment White Thunder then I must accept your most generous offer."

--oOo--

In the house Mark found Tina sprawled on her stomach in a sofa chair watching Ann in another chair, wearing one of his dressing gowns, being attended to, her eyes closed, by two manicurists, one on her finger nails, the other administering to her toes.

"Did Ann have that bath she was longing for?" asked Mark in a whisper to Tina.

In answer Tina held up two fingers.

"Two baths?" remarked Mark loudly "She must have been awfully in need."

"You two stop that" responded Ann opening her eyes "and I didn't have two, I fell asleep and had to run the water again."

"Everything OK?" asked Ellison smiling.

"Oh Mark, look at me" replied Ann, "Twelve hours ago I was sat on filthy straw in a filthy railway goods car."

"Well you can look back on it as just a bad dream now" proposed Mark. "After the girls here are finished with you there'll be a hairdresser arriving."

"Mark; that's too much for one day" protested Ann.

"There's a reason" disclosed Mark, "I'm taking you to dinner."

"But Mark, I can't. I'm only just beginning to take things in and adjust to…" Mark, who had moved around to the back of Ann's chair silenced her doubts by leaning over and kissing her forehead causing the two manicurists to smile and Tina to burst into giggles.

"For six years every morning I woke I swore that no matter what, you and I were going to spend our first evening together enjoying a dinner and that's what we are going to do." Mark leaned forward and kissed her again sending Tina into even louder giggles.

"I've no clothes" pointed out Ann with a shrug of her shoulders.

"You will have" assured Mark "Evelyn and Vicki are out shopping for you now."

"But they don't know my size" demurred Ann cocking her head back to catch his eye.

"I have every confidence in Evelyn and so should you."

--oOo--

At six that evening Ann, wrapped in a dressing gown bought by Evelyn was stood beside the bed in her bedroom facing an important decision. On the bed were three cheongsam dresses, one pale green, another royal blue and the third silver white with gold trim.

"Evelyn" she said turning to the woman stood behind her "I just don't know. Can you choose? I'm so lost. I haven't had such a choice of dresses since I was a teenage girl."

Smiling, Evelyn stepped forward to pick up the silver white dress. "This one; It will highlight the tan of your skin and compliment the gloss of your hair. Vicki choose it for you."

"If you think it will suit me Evelyn that's fine" accepted Ann "I just don't want to be a disappointment to Mark."

"You will not be a disappointment to Mister Ellison, Miss Ann" assured Evelyn holding the dress up against Ann's front. "You will see. You will see."

--oOo--

As Ann swung her legs out of the taxi, the door held for her by Mark, she looked up at the brightly lit hotel sign high above the large entrance doors.

"Oh Mark. It's the Gloucester" she whispered. "So this is why you have brought me here; to keep your promise."

As Ann took his arm Mark just smiled.

Through the entrance doors and across the broad foyer to the elevator Mark guided her with heads turning and men halting their step. It wasn't just because she was a Chinese woman on an Englishman's arm; she was a strikingly beautiful Chinese woman on and Englishman's arm.

Conscious of the stares she inwardly rejoiced at Mark's endeavour which had transformed her so astonishingly for this occasion. Gone forever was that shabby village woman that had climbed Livingston's steps just ten hours earlier. Now with proud delight, head high, she clung to his arm in a dress slit to above the knee that formed to Ann's body as if a film star in a movie scene.

Pausing at the elevator she squeezed her escort's arm and smiled as he turned his head to gaze into her eyes. On entering the elevator Ann could only remember one other moment when she had been so overcome by similar emotions of pride and happiness. Dreamlike long ago days when she was eighteen and standing with her mother and father on the steps of their Nanking home, as the Generalissimo and Madam Chiang Kai-shek arrived for dinner.

The restaurant was on the hotel's top floor arranged in two levels. The main floor with a dance area and a half level above with tables for small numbers and couples. The facing wall was mainly of windows with French glass doors opening onto a large balcony. They were taken to a table for two on the upper level by a waiter who appeared to know Mark quite well.

"Mark, order for me?" asked Ann having studied the menu for some minutes "I'm out of practice with dining out."

With a faint smile and nodding, Mark turned to the waiter, "Robert, if you please? We'll have the prawn hors d'oeuvre and the lobster."

"You've been here before?" enquired Ann.

"Many times" replied Mark "And always alone. It took me six months to decide that this was the best table in the room for viewing the lights of Kowloon."

"Yes. I've been admiring the sight; quite grand" agreed Ann "But always alone. Why?"

"Oh, I've never been quite alone" defended Mark. "You have always been with me sharing the wine." Pointing at the half-filled glass at her right hand "I'm sure Robert thought I was mad having to pour all those second glasses."

"To do that Mark you must be mad" Ann told him, breaking into a silent laugh.

On finishing his lobster Ann only a portion of hers, pleading being overwhelmed by the food's unaccustomed richness, Mark suggested they dance. The six-piece orchestra had been playing a string of Hollywood dance tunes all through their meal.

"Mark, please no. I haven't danced since my university days in Nanking. I would put on a shameful exhibition."

"The suggestion was intended as my way of getting you into my arms" admitted Mark, "Instead, come with me onto the balcony, we'll have a better view of the lights from there."

All through the meal they had talked telling each other of what had occurred during their long years of being apart. Now here on the balcony in the late evening warmth they were silent. Standing hand in hand watching the Kowloon lights, their reflection off the surface of the roadstead and the smaller water craft that silently propelled themselves between the two shores below them.

"I have to confess there is more to my past madness" announced Mark breaking their calm. "After my meal and wine I would always bring you down here to this spot as we have done just now. Then, I'd take your hand like I am now and look into your eyes as now, then I'd ask you to marry me."

"And what was my reply?" asked Ann.

"You said 'yes' every time" answered Mark "And now you are here and real I'm going to ask once more. Ann, will you marry me?"

Moving close Ann put her arms around him "Of course I will. Of course! Yes! Mark, yes! yes!"

For the first time they kissed each other's lips and again, and again, and again.

--oOo--

On being dropped in the drive by their taxi Mark and Ann, he with an arm around her shoulders, turned for the house but were stopped by two voices speaking from the garage balcony about.

"Good evening godfather."

"Good evening Mistress Ann."

"Was it a nice dinner?"

Hanging over the balcony railing, clad in their pyjamas, High Heart and Evelyn sat behind, was Tina and Vicki.

"You two scamps" scolded Mark fatherly, looking at his watch. "It's after ten o' clock. You should be in your beds."

"Evelyn" called up Ann "You can go to bed. I'll see to the girls."

"I'm sorry you found the girls up Miss Ann" apologised the nanny standing up, "But they were too excited to sleep and pleaded to wait up for your return."

"That's alright Evelyn" replied Ann. "I'm glad they are. Tina, Vicki come down, I and your godfather have something to tell you."

In a moment the two girls were at the couple's side holding Ann's hands, beaming with anticipation.

"Tomorrow" whispered Ann bending at the wait "Your godfather wants the two of you to come shopping with me so you can help choose my wedding dress for him."

With mouths half open they both, for a second, didn't realise the meaning of what Ann said. Then in amazement they squealed and began to hop clutching Ann tightly. Mark followed as Ann lead the two girls into the house but returned shortly with a bottle of wine and two glasses so he and High Heart could sip a toast to all their good fortunes.

--oOo--

An hour later Mark found Ann and the girls asleep in each other's arms on the living-room sofa. In two trips he carried his goddaughters back to their shared bedroom. Then, easing Ann into a comfortable lying position with a cushion under her head he covered her with a light blanket.

Gingerly placing an easy-chair next to the sofa, Mark sat so Ann, with the room bathed in an artificial glow from the Kowloon lights, was the centre of his gaze. Resting his head on the high back of the chair his thoughts drifted back to Nanking and that serious young woman who, on occasions at the Lin's home, ate across the table from him. Who, at that time to him, was hardly in the room, as his eyes were always on her sister, Frances.

Also, the grim memory of just a few months later of Ann's tear-streaked face, when she had said to him in a hospital hallway, after he and Johann Hartmann had rescued her from Japanese barbarism, "Please Mark, I owe you my life, but please leave me."

Gently, Mark eased his hand over the chair armrest and placed it next to and just touching one of Ann's.

Now, also recalling their extraordinary meeting three years later on the trackside at Sweet Water when she had laughed at his offer of taking her to a Hong Kong restaurant. Then, kindled through their many meetings under Ann's pear tree, a warm friendship blossomed which soon turned for each into fond but unspoken love which neither dared reveal until the night of their battle with the Japanese. When Ann in the concealment of the night, gripped his hand and whispered, "You came back, you came back."

But mostly Mark thought of this night. When after years of dreams and despair, standing at last on the Gloucester balcony and hearing Ann reply to his proposal, "Yes Mark. Oh yes."

As Mark, watching over Ann so silent and serene, he reflected on the turn of fate's wheel that had guided them to this moment. For him it had begun that cold winter's day north of the Yangtze, when a brigade of policemen and cutthroats had welcomed him and David Lin into their ranks. A vagabond band of nobles and rogues who called themselves 'Pointed Sword'. THE END


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