#FridayFlash: The Aftermath of the Boxer Rebellion

The Aftermath of the Boxer Rebellion

by Tony Noland

"I say, Artie? If you're not otherwise occupied, we're almost out of cartridges. Think your dad could spring for some more? Him being Lord Yaxley and all?"

Arthur Wilberforce "Artie" Wooster drew a bead on the last of the rebellious Chinaman fleeing across the yard, squeezed the trigger and dispatched the bugger. His friend Harry's sense of humor was more dryly British than most Englishman's; it came from trying too hard.

"I can ask," Artie said, "but the old fellow has always been a bit tight-fisted with his younger sons. Besides," Artie said, as he scanned the yard below the window, "I thought your latest fortune was made with that last cargo ship."

"It was, but since the damned Chinese rose up back in March of last year -"

"April."

"- April, 1899, then. More than a year ago, anyway, since we first got wind of these damned Boxers; this whole damned nuisance has scuppered my import and export business." Gustavus Karl Friedrich "Harry" von Prosser sat, his chair leaned against a wall.

Artie said, "Will you be ready for the dance at the Embassy next week-end?" He nodded at Harry's wounded leg. "That looks like it might sting a bit." Artie withdrew a silver flask from his pocket and passed it over. By such a means did he let his friend know his care and concern.

Harry drank deeply from the flask, then smiled up at Artie, said, "Wouldn't miss it for worlds. Oh, I might just possibly sit out the sprightlier tunes, to give it a bit of a rest, you understand." His expression of gratitude was frozen at the sound of a scream from within the building. Both men stopped and listened intently. Another scream, then moans of a desperate nature filled the hallway beyond. Harry passed the flask back to the suddenly pale Artie, who also drank deeply of it.

"Do you think..." started Artie. He swallowed, then continued, "Do you think that's normal? God take me for a damned sinner, but with that last attack by the Chinese, I'd ... well, not forgotten, but been distracted. Do you think she's... alright?"

"She has her sister Agatha in with her, and you know what a bulldog brick she is. There's an English midwife with her, too. We sent the Chinese midwife away months ago. Can't trust 'em these days. But come, she'll be fine! It's been going on since sundown last night; it can't be much longer now." Another scream tore at the air, a sound like a defenseless woman being killed. Artie turned from the window, made as if to go to her, stopped. The birthing bed was no place for a father. This was woman's work, and they were welcome to it. Another scream, and his hands gripped the stock of his rifle, turning the knuckles white.

"That's a good sign, Artie, now, can't you see that? 'Arbeit härter, Kinder stärker.' - that's what my Gran always used to say, what?" Naturalized citizen as he was, and desperate to be as English as possible, for Harry to make a joke about his own German origin meant that he was thoroughly anxious to distract his friend's mind. Artie knew it, and he held out his hand; Harry shook it, a grin on his pale, sweaty face.

"Well, if your Gran's any judge, my little Kinder is going to be as strong as they come. What's a good name, eh? What shall I name the little bugger?"

"You can't go wrong with a strong English name. When the time comes, I know what I'll name my son: Alexander Charles. That should get him into Eton, what? Especially if I drop the 'von' and build a new wing on the school. Of course, with you being from an old family, you can name him whatever you like."

"Almost, I suppose. The middle name has to be Wilberforce, in accordance with an old family tradition. For the first name? I think perhaps Bartholomew. Or Brian." He stood, thinking and saying different names out loud a few times, to get the feel of them on his tongue. He was about to say another name aloud when he stopped.

The back room had been silent for a long, long time.

Artie swallowed, held his ground. In the hardest thing he had done in all his 37 years, he held his ground and did not move. He did not go in to hold his bride, the beautiful, fragile woman he had dragged halfway around the world. He did not run to her, he did not kick in the door, burning though he was to know if she... if she...

At the end of the hallway, the door opened, and his sister-in-law Agatha came out. He saw her take a deep breath, then walk forward with a strong, steady step.

"She is doing as well as can be expected." Agatha said, answering the question Artie dared not ask. "She's had a very rough time of it, but with some rest and quiet, and perhaps a bit of brandy, she'll be fine."

"And...?"

"Your son is in with her, and is resting peacefully." Artie collapsed into a chair. The sleepless night, the attack at dawn, the long hours on watch... he felt as weary as a man could.

"Artie. You need to know something." Agatha's voice was firm and strong, as always, but there was a note of sadness that chilled Artie to his core. "He was born with the cord wrapped around his neck," she continued, "and the midwife had a devil of a time getting him undone. He was a bit blue for a while. The midwife says she's seen such births before. The boy might grow up perfectly fine and hale, or he might be a bit... slow. It's the luck of the draw, Artie, and there's nothing to be done about it. We can't know the truth until he's older. Regardless, your son is resting comfortably now. What name have you picked?"

"Bertram," Artie said, in shock. "Bertram Wilberforce Wooster."

"Bertram," said Agatha experimentally. "Bertram. Bertie Wooster." She nodded. "Good. A good strong name for a boy who will do us all proud, I'm sure."

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41 comments:

  1. Good flash, neat take on the English 'stiff upper lip'. Pip pip, what-ho, and all that!

    Just noticed one typo - it should be "your Gran", not "you're Gran".

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  2. a history lesson to boot. Oy! way to "dispatch" this one tony. well done.

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  3. At first I thought that there was a mad person at the house, heh. Loved the trip to the past! :)

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  4. Of course, for this Brit with certain reading habits, the ending was a given but you built it up perfectly and concluded with a beautifully structured final paragraph.

    - MEG

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  5. I'm with Mari...I must still have zombies on the brain. :)

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  6. Nice slice-of-life look back at history. Hopefully Bertie will live up to the strong name and be a strong kid. Good story.

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  7. Such a great contrast between now and then with attitudes to birth and life. And the background of the Boxer Rebellion gives it a whole other perspective to think about also.
    Adam B

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  8. Well done and cheerio, Tony. And I learned something. :)

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  9. Ah, so based on how adult Bertie needs Jeeves to extricate him from numerous awkward and zany situations, I can deduce that the cord around Bertie's neck was wrapped a little too tightly! :D

    Was quite chuffed by how good this story is!

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  10. I held my breathe reading this one. Great job.

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  11. Woo hoo! Meg and Marisa Birns got the joke! I was terribly afraid that this would fall *completely* flat!

    Everybody loves a good origin story, and THIS is why Bertie is such a nitwit!

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  12. The Fabulous Name Brigade was out in full force for this piece.

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  13. This was great - I'm thinking you're going for historical fic and then you get all Jeevy on us. Great stuff, Tony. You're so damn versatile I'm gonna start calling you yoga master. Peace...

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  14. Good snippet! I felt the weight of the lives and personalities behind these characters.

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  15. Awwww! Can you do the Jeeves back story next week please...?

    One minor suggestion - in the 2nd paragraph I would change "old man" to "old fellow", what-what my dear chap.

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  16. Sir I commend your evident mastery of the fine art of the English understatement.

    I think in 1899 since we hadn't had any dust ups with the Hun yet, 'Von' might have actually enhanced the chances for being accepted into Eton

    marc nash

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  17. Damn you are so variable. I love coming to your stories. Never know what I'm going to get. Enjoyed this.

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  18. Ah ha! Excellent story, old chap. I love a good background story, and this did not fall flat at all! Good show.

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  19. Oh, Bertie! Trouble from the beginning! Like mazzz, I'd like a Jeeves backstory next week, although I admit he's something of a deity to me, so good luck getting that one right.

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  20. Tony, I'm sorry I can't read you every week. A silly thing to do with time constraints and scheduling. But, every damn time I am able to come by, I am never disappointed. I agree with several comments above, especially about your versatility. Always entertained by you and you rock!

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  21. Wasnnt sure what to expect with this one. Nicely done.

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  22. Thanks for all the reads & comments, everyone! If you don't know who Bertram Wilberforce Wooster is... Google him!

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  23. I really liked the play on history, and you do English characters very, very well.

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  24. It's a pippin! Very well written and enjoyable to read. I really like how the fact of whether Bertie's a "bit slow" or "perfectly fine and hale" is up for debate - I've always thought his hat size to be grossly underestimated! Thanks for sharing this.

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  25. This was very enjoyable. Good ole Bertie.

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  26. Ah! Bertie. I've always loved that boy. This is a wonderful crack at an origin story and as plausible an explanation for Bertie Wooster as one could ask for.

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  27. I love the drama and gravitas that hailed the birth of a lzay shiftless devil-may-care dilletant! This was a brilliant idea, well executed with a very Wodehouse feel to it. (I was half hoping for a reference to a cow creamer, but it's better without it. )

    Great fun, Tony!

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  28. Ah...so that's what happened. :)

    You captured the tone well. I thing PGW would not be unhappy.

    Well done.

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  29. I LOVE Wodehouse, and I just re-read a collection of his stories recently (for about the fifth time). I can see the influence here, and it put me in mind of old Plum, Bertie, Jeeves, and Lord Emsworth. Good job!

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  30. Great work, Tony. I don't think I've laughed so loud, or so long, for a while. I've never been a fan of Wooster, till now.

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  31. I'm really thrilled at how many Wodehousians I've flushed out of the shrubbery with this piece.

    I always wondered where the Wooster family money came from. As the old saying goes, behind every great fortune is a great crime. I thought it would be fun to have Bertie's ancestors be the exact opposite of the lazy, sweet dope he turned out to be.

    Then that made me wonder why he turned out so much against type, what with the strength of family influences and all. Bertie's Uncle George is Lord Yaxley, which means Bertie's grandfather was Lord Yaxley. How did Bertie fall so far from that tree?

    One and all, thanks for reading!

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  32. Supremely crafted, sir... Good stuff.

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  33. Brilliant, bloody brilliant. You've done Mr. Wodehouse proud.

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  34. There's a tiny town near me called Wilberforce..They make extradorinary Christmas cake for the
    Shriners ... I wonder...

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  35. I just listened to this on your audioboo and LOVE LOVE LOVE your story and your wonderful way of reading it. I have some British family members, we have a Falstaff and a Prunella in there, so this was quite funny to read, what?

    This was truly a pleasure.

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  36. After some googling, i'm getting the gist of it - This is a terrific story, Tony and again you demonstrate your versatility :-)

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  37. Dude... You can READ!! Great stuff. Again.

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  38. Interesting with the accents. :)

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  39. Thanks for the comments on the AudioBoo reading! I'm not sure how I'm going to work these in the future - the written version on Friday followed by the audio version on Sunday? Or doing items from the back-catalog for Sundays? Must consider.

    As always, any suggestions for improving the readings are appreciated.

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  40. Fantastic! And I only just started reading the Jeeves story a couple months ago. Perfect!

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