Admiral Grey indeed had to walk some distance to find a hansom cab, and it was still raining, a cold, chilling drizzle that matched the way he felt. His career was a constant issue with Julianna, and though she supported him and was proud of him, she jealously guarded their time together, always wishing for more.
It was no different for him, of course; but Julianna had spoken of duty, and even though it had come across as somewhat derisive, it was fact. Duty took supremacy over all other obligations, even those of the heart.
He finally did engage a cab and returned to his hotel room for a few hours of fitful sleep. But morning quickly came around, and he was up and dressed in short order. He was no stranger to nights with little sleep.
Cabs were easier to find in the morning, even at a fairly early hour, and he was soon whisked off to the Admiralty for his meeting with the Lord Admiral.
The guards saluted as he entered the building and then made his way up wide marble staircases to the office of Lord Admiral James Wilson. Admiral Grey had met with Wilson a number of times in the past, most generally summoned to his office before being sent on a mission that was invariably dangerous. In times of war, that was to be expected, but there were still problems in times of peace, such as pirates on the high seas, that the British Navy was called upon to deal with.
Lord Admiral Wilson appreciated style and the trappings of a high position. His office was large and airy, and furnished with pieces made from exotic woods whose origins represented the length and breadth of the British Empire. Handles and fittings were of polished brass and costly Persian carpets covered the oaken floors.
Wilson motioned Admiral Grey to a seat in front of his desk.
“Thank you sir,” Admiral Grey said. He took the seat, even though he would have preferred to stand at attention.
“John, something’s come up,” said Wilson. “I’ll have some tea brought in, as we need to discuss the matter.” He rang for his attendant and gave the order.
Here we go, thought the Admiral, his suspicions confirmed. “Sir?” he replied.
“There are some problems in Hawai`i.”
“Hawai`i? I understand we have representation there, but it’s not part of the Empire …”
“True enough, but something’s amiss, and I want you to find out about it. We’ve received some despatches from our embassy that are disturbing, to say the least.”
“Any news would be many months old, would it not?”
“That’s precisely the problem,” Wilson said. “It takes months to reach Hawaii, and so these despatches are already quite dated. Anything might have happened in-between, and who knows what more may happen before you can reach there?”
“Don’t we have some ships on station?”
“We have one, the Monarch.”
“And that won’t do?”
“I’m afraid it won’t. You need to go there and determine the best course of action.”
“May I see the despatches?”
“By all means.” The Lord Admiral swiveled his chair to a long, low cabinet behind his desk. Taking a key ring from his pocket, he unlocked a compartment and took out a small folder. He passed it over to Admiral Grey. Just then the attendant arrived and served the tea. “A special blend, made just for my office,” Wilson said.
“I’ve given you a transcribed copy,” Wilson continued. “Read it at your hotel— I heard you couldn’t get in at the Naval Club this time— but let no one else see it, and be sure to return it here before you leave in in two days’ time.”
“Two days? But my crew is off on leave, and my ship is being maintained … “
“We have already sent messengers to summon your crew, and maintenance has been put on a 24-hour schedule. Your ship should be crewed, maintained, and supplied in time for your departure.”
“The crew is going to be very unhappy.”
“They signed on to serve King and Country. They will respond appropriately.”
Admiral Grey was not so sure about that. Shore leave after so much time away was a precious thing. But he knew better than to contradict his superior officer.
It was obvious that the meeting was at an end. Lord Admiral Wilson made a point of picking up some papers from his desk. “I’ll call you back here just prior to your departure,” he said, without looking up.
“Aye aye, sir.” Admiral Grey’s salute went unnoticed and unreturned. Grasping the sheaf of despatches, he turned and left the room.
There would have to be a reckoning with Julianna, and soon. The Admiral, not wanting to read obviously sensitive material in a public hansom cab, could think of little else. Their plans for a leisurely few of weeks at the Admiral’s country home would have to be set aside, as would just about everything else. The Admiral would have to be on his ship when his men returned, equally unhappy with having shore leave abbreviated to almost nothing. Two days, that was perhaps all the Admiral would have.
Upon his return to his hotel, he sent a message to Julianna asking leave to call upon her the following evening, as he expected the hours ahead would be spent reading the Hawaiian despatches and taking care of those items of business that now not be deferred, as there was no telling how long the upcoming mission would last. He only knew that travel time alone to and from Hawaii could be half a year or more.
The Admiral settled himself at the writing desk near the windows and opened the packet of despatches.
At that moment, it was late at night in Honolulu, the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom. In a tiny upstairs office of a building on King Street, three men were meeting. They were all visitors to the Kingdom, coming there from different parts of the world, yet knowing when and where they were to gather.
They had first met nearly a year earlier, in this self-same office, then, as now, behind drawn curtains and closed doors. The office door was simply titled Import/Export Service in black ink letters on pebbled, frosted glass. It was almost always closed and locked, and attracted little attention. The owner of the building was given his monthly rental payment, and didn’t care whether or not a prospering business lay within. Once in a while someone might remark that the office never seemed to be occupied, but nothing ever developed beyond idle curiosity. People were too busy with their own affairs to worry about a vacant office.
The three men had no notes or papers with them. They had been well trained in committing their affairs to memory and leaving no traces, not even the smallest scrap of a document.
Yet, they were in the process of making detailed reports to each other, reports that spoke of progress on all fronts. There were discussions about deliveries and where to store them. There were discussions about contacts and their assessed reliability. And of course, there were discussion about their role in the Plan.
It all took a few hours, and when they were done, they agreed on one thing. They still had a few more months of work to do.
And then they would be ready, and there would be nothing that would stop them.
Admiral Grey must have been reading for quite some while, but it hadn’t taken him that long to understand the Lord Admiral’s concerns. The despatches told a chilling story.
Most of them were written by the British Ambassador to the Kingdom of Hawai`i. They spoke of growing suspicion and fear. The final despatch was the most alarming of all.
“I am sending this missive in a sealed pouch with my most trusted aide; or, perhaps I should say, my last and only trusted aide. I sometimes feel I am surrounded by conspirators. Surely, that cannot be true. Am I perhaps taking leave of my senses? Yet, strange things are happening. There is whispering in the hallways, which stops when I pass by and then resumes when I am out of earshot.
“Sometimes messages are missing or misplaced, only to turn up a day or two later. But most frightening of all is what happened to my assistant, Adam Henry.
“Mr. Henry wanted to speak to me urgently, but I was to go to Hawai`i Island on a brief trip, and I put him off, saying I would speak to him on my return. He was rather insistent and I read his insistence as insubordination, and so lectured him briefly about it. Finally, I left for the docks with him running after me, shouting, but I paid him no heed.
“Upon my return I learned that Mr. Henry had suffered an accident. He had been run down in the King Street by a carriage, which did not stop to render aid. The police have done nothing and I fear that Mr. Henry has been murdered to ensure his silence.
“Does this all seem rather paranoid? Perhaps it is, and yet I cannot help but think that something is badly wrong here. I huddle in my office by day, performing the minimum of official functions, and then hide in my home at night.
“Someone needs to come here and look into matters before it is too late— although too late for what, I have no idea.”
The Admiral placed the last message back in its packet. It was late and time to sleep. No return message had yet come from Julianna.
He was just about to extinguish the lamp on the writing desk when the window shattered and the Admiral was knocked to the floor. The lamp overturned and ignited the packet of despatches. Flames started to spread as the window curtains caught fire and sparks flew over to the bedding. The entire room was sure to be consumed within minutes.
But Admiral Grey lay on the floor, unconscious.
Our next episode, Last Night Ashore, will appear on or around March 26.
Story copyright (C) 2019 by Bob Newell. All images used are to the best of our knowledge in the public domain.
This Month’s Featured Tea: Mr. Maxey’s Own
Mr Maxey’s Own
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