SQ 04 - The English Concubine

SQ 04 - The English Concubine by Dawn Farnham

Book: SQ 04 - The English Concubine by Dawn Farnham Read Free Book Online
Authors: Dawn Farnham
the corpse from head to toe and poured around the body.
    Lian turned away. She had been taught to understand that such rituals were pagan. Lilin stared at her dead father, unwaveringly, then suddenly began to laugh. It was so shocking that her mother turned and slapped her. Lilin stopped instantly.
    The coffin lid was fitted into place and the gravediggers began refilling the grave. Three more years would go by before they came again by which time the wine would have done its job.
    Offerings of food were made, candles and incense lit at all the graves, and bundles of hell’s notes and paper ingots thrown into the fire in the great urn. Lian lit the joss in her turn and bowed low to her ancestors’ tombs. She placed the tight bud of the lotus she had brought for her mother on her grave.
    Lilin came up to Zhen to pay her respects and Lian watched, curious. Zhen acknowledged her but his body stiffened. That he could not bear to be near her was obvious. What had gone on between these two? She had loved her father with whom she had an easy and pleasant relationship but, since the business of marriage had been announced, she found him overbearing.
    As they went down the hill, Zhen signalled to her and she went to him, bowing. Lilin followed them with her eyes.
    ‘Mrs. Manouk spoke to me of you as you asked her.’
    Lian turned her eyes to her father’s, a bright flare of hope springing into her heart.
    ‘She has argued that a girl of your education and upbringing will not settle into the life of a traditional Chinese wife. She was eloquent but she understands nothing of the Chinese and our culture.’
    Lian felt the flame die a little.
    ‘What did you answer her, Father?’
    ‘That I understood her desire to be helpful but that this business was my business.’
    Actually Zhen had been appalled at Lian’s boldness. Xia Lou had raised the subject at the last dinner they would eat together for many weeks. She had asked him to reconsider, but what was there to reconsider. He had given way on Alex and Lily. This daughter was his alone. Now he was so angry at Xia Lou he was unreachable on this subject.
    Lian’s heart sank.
    ‘Father, I want to obey you but Ah Soon is an opium addict.’
    ‘Many men are. Should they not have wives?’
    Lian felt a coldness enter her. He was determined. She saw his implacability. Nothing she could say would change his mind. He was heartless and she hated him. What difference did it make what she said now?
    ‘You are a hypocrite. You do not marry. You live with the woman you love, a beautiful, intelligent woman who has her own independence. You do not take a wife you do not care for.’
    Zhen pulled up abruptly and took her by the arm roughly. ‘How dare you?’
    Lian looked at him boldly, unflinching. She had rather die or be beaten than go down this path.
    ‘What is not true? You love Miss Charlotte and do not marry another.’
    Zhen felt a dagger blow to his heart. To speak of Xia Lou, now, when things had so rapidly become strained. He thought constantly of her eyes turned to this man, her hand in his and now the visit to this sailor, this Commodore Mallory. What had she said, what had she done aboard his ship? He turned to Lian in fury.
    ‘Silence. Am I not free to take another wife if I choose? If my children are so disobedient and wilful I had better have some different ones.’
    Lian fell silent. Could this be true? Could it? When she knew he cared so much for Charlotte. She had always secretly admired his unwavering faithfulness to this English woman which was the Christian ideal, and despised the Chinese men who took wives and concubines willy-nilly.
    His mother-in-law turned, darting a look of venomous disapproval over them both as if they and their unorthodox lives were the fault of everything. Zhen bowed to her with exaggerated deference and for an instant Lian felt their solidarity. She and her father always found common ground in their feelings of general annoyance at her

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