Saturday, August 1, 2015

Postblogging Technology, June, 1945, II: The Defence Advances

Group Captain R_. C_., RCAFVR, OBE, DSO, DFC (Bar),
RAAF Richmond,

Dearest Father:

It is I, Dame Grace, writing this to congratulate you on your appearance in the Birthday Honours. Does that sound stilted? Because one is given to understand that Dames write about themselves in the third person in English, and this is the closest one can achieve. Not that one is calling one's attention to the fact that the correct appellation in English is now "Dame Grace." One would never be so over the moon at . . . 

I shall stop. And I shall not kiss the lips of my husband any the more fervently when I see him for his being now "Sir James." Though I shall be ever so grateful for the new styling, if it means not having to field the line about "Captain C_., eh? Any relation to the Captain C_.?" "Well, yes," one would reply. And then. . .

To be fair, most Americans --most people, I should say-- are unaware that no children of his marriage lived to adulthood.  So they would not know that they were being whimsical --or hitting on an unacknowledged truth. And so one danced around the facts, and the implications of the answer, depending on what one wanted to imply, and to whom, especially, of course, about the mother. 

How did I get on to that? Perhaps it is that I am giddy; or that I am tired and out of time for having my time and schedule abruptly reversed by the sudden retirement of our housekeeper's father from his position at FMC. As he says, he has money enough to live comfortably, and a farm to keep up, and, I suspect, the same burgeoning dreams of subdivision (on a much smaller scale) as we. What it means for me, and poor Fanny, is more domestic work than we are used to doing, at least until things settle down over there. I am almost tempted --almost-- to broach the subject with the Wongs. But I shall be strong. Their daughter is to improve herself through education, and not be immured in domestic service. It may begin as "temporary," but who knows when it would end. If making breakfast for myself is the cost of keeping the Wongs' loyalty, I can manage it, although a man, before judging, should try it with the load which I am carrying around with me. 

So you will be glad to know that your son has not washed out of training, will not wash out of training, indeed, will place high in his class. He sounds only slightly melancholy at his separation from California. Miss v. Q. hangs over word of Fat Chow, who does not have much reason to stay in Japan, one would think. Except for bizarre invitations on a a trip to Turkestan via Manchuria for reasons unclear. Professor L has contacted me about the Amerasia matter, of which more anon.

As for the telephone installation in Couer d'Alene, are you teasing me? I am pretty sure that "Miss V. C." has more on her mind than receiving calls from beaus, as, after all, Lieutenant A was in town last week --I bet many a young officer would want a commission so liberal! (Speaking of, Miss v. Q.'s invitation east is now firm, but she has put it off until after her roommate is couched.)

We are glad to receive your intimation that methods and techniques are afoot to bring the war to a rapid, if not humane conclusion, for, as the Prime Minister puts it, we are looking through now towards the sunny uplands. . .

A vision of the American utopia, brought to you by Pontiac. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Postblogging Technology, June 1945, I: The Inventors

Group Captain R_. C_., RCAFVR, DSO, DFC (Bar),
RAAF Richmond,

Dearest Father:

What a relief! First, the war in Europe is well and definitively over. Second, I am  not to be repudiated by the family! I cannot thank you enough for your support in the matter of assistance. I wish that Uncle George were here, since it strikes me that some naval architectural advice would go far to alleviating the risks involved. The last thing the family would want is another 'white slavery' fiasco. The number of elders of the community determined to provide their grandsons with picture brides is amazing to me, but what am I to say? I shall have to bring up the matter of support and novel ventures again in a moment, but the whole thing is so strange that I shall leave you on the hooks for a moment!

Oh, I am sorry, my manners! I hope that the war finds you well in Australia. One would think that it would! My latest letters from Uncle George and James breathe relief at the end of the dreadful Ryukyus campaign, while it increasingly looks as though the Australian project will come to nothing. While I do not know much about strategy and diplomacy other than what I read in the papers, it seems as though we must look forward to a Japanese peace before my time, the turn of the leaves, or the arrival of British bombers in Okinawa. Next year in California!

"Miss V.C." has gone to the Couer d'Alene house for an extended stay, promising to be on the train the moment she hears of my confinement. She wants to thoroughly investigate the papers there, and has promised in return to supervise some long-pending modernising. Indoor plumbing and replacing the wiring to support something more robust than 60 watt lightbulbs in every room might be a bit much to ask given the lack of labour, but I have a promising lead on an electric furnace, a suitable appliance for the new main we must have anyway --we can then have either radiant heat in the rooms when the house is wired, or persist with the forced air ducting, although it is much too big, I am told, for that to work out well. The same excavation (or wire hanging) can then bring in a  telephone, very much overdue. 

Miss v. Q is in a tizzy over the expected confinements, but much soothed by her rapid progress towards an American driver's license, which apparently she simply must have for teaching in the fall, as life on the Berkeley campus would be, I am told, unthinkable without it. There is also talk of a business visit to a country house in Virginia known to Lieutenant A. --near Washington, I am told with a juvenile wink--. The Lieutenant is here and there and on about the country with manic energy since Wong Lee's little adventure, and not least where "Miss V.C.' is to be found. Although if I find him to be doing the Engineer's business, I shall be cross!

Returning to Miss v. Q., I am not so naive as to wonder whether she needs quite as much practice driving as she claims, but it is a beautiful summer here, and there is so much to see, and Professor K. has invited her to the Napa house several times already. He thinks her a good influence on Miss K., who chatters on about everything except what the good Professor things a young lass should be concerned with. Miss v. Q. takes a more tolerant view, which puts her on good terms with both.   And she does need distraction.

On the matter of her beloved, in so much more danger than mine, we have good news. Our new agent has returned from his voyage to Vladivostok with the package, a heavy bundle of prewar banknotes, carefully concealed with all of Fat Chow's art. I have passed it on to Cousin E., with strict instructions that Uncle Henry is to buy ten year bonds with it, which seems a long enough time frame for the Oahu project. No car factories, steel mills, airports, flying boats, hospitals, or other brainstorms, in other words! It is distressing to think that we are securing the money of the same clans whose sons now aim their aircraft at my beloved's ships, but they are old, old partners. 

Now, the bizarre matter: we have placed a great deal of trust in our new agent, and, of course, he wants something more than money, or he would have taken his chances in stealing our package! Specifically, he wants to be a science fiction writer. I am no judge of literary merit, but he seems more than talented enough by the standards of the competition, although your youngest writes from Michigan that he is put off by the man's style. On the other hand, a striking and odd style is, I am told, apt to gather a devoted following if delivered well. This said, using family influence to secure a placement in some odd literary magazine would be a spectacular waste of effort. I am open to suggestions.

Finally, with the letter, a puzzled note from Fat Chow, who has been approached to reactivate his pretended role as an exiled Kalmyk prince. Something is going on in far Sinkiang. I assume that it is just a matter of the Russians muscling in, but I can't help recalling Sir Eric's assassination. 


A cloverleaf! How romantic.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Fall of France, XI: Nimrods All the Way Down

This rubs me the wrong way. I'm not sure the subtext is as pro-Nazi as I perceive it to be, but, for me, the perception is there. 

Now, this?

I'd explain in detail, but it wouldn't be Very Serious and Scholarly. So here's the Wikipedia links. Jump on board if Clobbering Time's your thing. 1, 2, 34.*

No more obliqueness. It's time to Put a Clobbering on Global Warming!

Never mind. That's probably getting too non-oblique, far too many leaps of logic all at once. I'm talking here about counterfactuals of 1940. I've done so before, in a whimsical way. Some time later, I returned to the subject when provoked by one of those books that manages to be usefully and provocatively wrong. The Foresight War is a "counterfactual" of World War II which, inexplicably, gets the British Expeditionary Force out of the Battle of France, while focussing on important prewar changes to the interwar trajectory. You know, like getting it an assault rifle. 

I have danced around the real counterfactual before, although I can't find it in my older posts in the time I am willing to commit to the exercise, and, anyway, it is a really, really simple point that bears repeating.

On 10 May 1940, when the balloon went up, there were 7 infantry divisions under the BEF, plus one in strategic reserve in France, plus one rotated under French command in the Maginot Line garrison, plus three divisions brought over as for construction work, plus one created new during the fighting from reinforcement depot troops. Depending on who you're blowing smoke for, you might get away with saying that the BEF actually present in France on the day that the German offensive began was 7 divisions, or 12. Or, heck, 13. I think it's perfectly fair for a historian of the German army to focus on the latter. After all, some of the attacking German armies were at least as unready to fight as the "labour" divisions called into the line to join the BEF. If, on the other hand, you want to emphasise just how small the British land contribution was, the "7" number is equally useful. Even if the GHQ-bound 5th Division was released to the BEF the moment the fighting started, the fact is that on 9 May, the GHQ in Arras thought that it was going to lose the division to a peripheral fight in Norway, and the details of its return to the fight had a disproportionate impact on the BEF's mobile forces.**

The point being made by the latter strawman is that Britain, because it was "small," or because it had a large navy, or because of Culture or as a Matter of Historical and Political Tradition (Cromwell! Boo!), just couldn't have a sufficiently large army to influence matters on the continent. It was pointless to try, and the optimum strategy in Avalon Hill's Third Reich, which is (I'm told) to send the entire BEF to Egypt to wipe out the Italian Empire in North Africa, actually makes sense.

Enough delaying the counterfactual turn is after the cut.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Postblogging Technology, May 1945, II: There's a War On, For Your Information

Group Captain R_. C_., RCAFVR, DSO, DFC (Bar),
RAAF Richmond,

Dearest Father:

I hope this letter finds you well, as I am fishing for a way to introduce the fact that I am sick as a dog. Do not worry about my condition, though, as it is only an unseasonal cold. I may be stuffed up, hacking and headachey, but the more important matters proceed normally.

Speaking of, fortified by as much codeine as my doctor would allow, I attended a dinner given for Wellington Koo by the Benevolent Associations last week, in the hopes of smoothing over our recent difficulties. Unfortunately, as we cannot trust all the ethnic press, I could not attend in the company of Wong Lee, and instead went as the guest of Professor K., while Wong Lee brought his daughter in law and Miss v. Q, which unfortunately did not save me from a most unpleasant conversation with Madame Y., in which she took quite malicious pleasure in insulting me to my face in Mandarin in the presence of the China Times correspondent. It did not help that I am sure that I saw Miss v. Q. being forced to suppress a giggle.

Although if I can look past my humiliation, Madame Y. was witty as well as obnoxious. Ah, well. I shall have my revenge some day, and I am impressed at how quickly Miss v. Q. picks up the language --as well as how quickly Mrs. Wong grows round, especially as our dates are only weeks apart.

But you have no time to hear about my social struggles. I sent Wong Lee away after the banquet, and met with the revered elders privately aftewards, and, I hope, made good by lavish promises of postwar travel assistance. I am afraid that I gave away far more seats than the Peru route will take, so, that if we meet my promises, we must move people on the liners again, unless someone comes up with a better idea than your youngest's suggestion of flying them in. I beg your indulgence in this, as though I had the family's permission in advance, I went, perhaps, too far, and must ask you to explain my actions to the Earl and Uncle George.

As for other fronts of barely-concealed domestic hostility, I had a visit from the Engineer's son and Lieutenant A., who pulled up at the house in a roadster even before the party had ended. It's perplexing. They were on the road far too early to have any expectatatin of arriving comfortably "too late," and they assure me that our phone lines are tapped, and that this was the only way that they could reach me with a warning about a scheme of which they had only heard the previous day.

I am less than convinced, and the man looked distinctly down-at-mouth when pressed as to whether his father was also ignorant of the attempt until too late. It could be acting --he is an actor, although of course not a very good one, it is said. I remain torn. I don't like him, but he is just so easily likable, and I do feel for anyone who has to bear with being the illegitimate offspring of a man like the Engineer.

The young lieutenant had a little more grace. He was the one who sought Wong Lee's help in the "black bag" job in the first place, and apparently Wong Lee's team delivered. While I am at a loss as to what some pre-encryption blanks of "book-to-book" cables are going to profit the FBI, or the Army, or the Navy, or whoever was behind this in the end, they think that it is important. so the knowledge that someone used Wong Lee's distraction to attempt to assassinate Great Uncle might touch the consciences of such as are involved who might have one. At least, I am very tempted to complain to Chester. I just do not know how much he has guessed about our family connections, and it might do more harm than good.

On the bright side, your boy is at last safely away in Michigan, even managing to find a minute to phone us at the house for a minute to let us know that he had arrived safely. I shall have to call the phone company about that, though, as the reversed charges for some reason show that he spent thirty minutes on the line to California that night, and that's an enormous amount of money to write off as a clerical error.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Too Late, No One Cares: Grexiting the Late Bronze Age: The Case for Not Everyone Dying in the Process

Again, it is worth pointing out a theory. (That theory is not, as you might suppose, that Erik is too lazy to work on "Techblogging May, 1945, II, today." I have very important reasons for putting that off to the end of the week. Important, I say!) 

As late as the end of the first third of the Nineteenth Century, travellers to Greece were struck by the way that the lowland ports where they debarked their ships in search of the lost landmarks of Antiquity, Pausanias in hand, were tent cities. The "homes" of the Greek peasantry lay elsewhere, up high in the cool mountain heights.

There, for the most part, Pausanias did not go, and neither did the travellers. Mystras, near Sparta, was too famous to ignore, and the Acrocorinth was a good, stiff walk above that city. But as for the heights of Ithome or Ypati, the town travellers were prone to confuse with ancient Thebes, as Mystras was confused with Sparta.

The theory is that our Antiquity-centred view of Greece focusses on the coastal plains which are the most agriculturally productive under a regime of commercial agriculture focussing on the production of crops such as olives for export. What we are seeing in the Nineteenth Century is a resumption of that kind of agricultural economy in Greece under the stimulus of foreign demand, a "return to the plains." 

Here's another take. Ruins, high politics, a past disowned.

Time has not been kind to Nebhepetre Mentuhotep's House of a Million Years. (Though the modern reconstruction is spectacular.) The founder of the Middle Kingdom occupies an odd place in the history of Greece. If you believe Martin Bernal, he is the founder of a great Egyptian empire which colonises Greece. If you don't (and, frankly, you shouldn't), he is the founder of a great state that ought to have exerted a considerable influence on Greece. Hints that the Middle Kingdom did just that can then be heaped up into a mountain of inference that takes you back to Bernal and Black Athena.

But never mind that, because having given credit where credit is due, the issue with the mortuary complex at Deir-al-Bahani is not the distant days of 2000BC, but a tomb, carefully cut into the southern face of the cliffs near the ancient mortuary complex and subsequent additions. Here, some time shortly after 969BC, a priestly clan reburied the mummies of 40 pharoahs of the New Kingdom, removed from their original tombs. A little later, they added the mummies of 150 high priests. To hear them explain themselves, the descendents and followers of high priest Pinedjem I were doing the honly thing they could  to protect the treasures of the pharoahs from relentless tomb robbers. But careful examination of the unfinished tomb of Ramesses XI  reveals that the Pinedjemists used the site to process tomb furniture from these burials into more conveniently, shall we say, disposable, forms? It seems like a pretty disrespectful way to treat the pharaoh, but at the end of the period known as the Suppression, probably exactly as dark and sinister in fact as it sounds in retrospect, the victors were probably not long on respect for the late ruler. 

It suffices to point out that most of the treasure buried in the tombs of Egypt for the eternal profit of the Two Lands was brought back into circulation about 950BC, and not by the tomb raiders who are conventionally blamed, but by the authorities who ostensibly fought them. The period of Egyptian history after c. 950BC gets little attention from Egyptologists. The country is ruled by Libyans and Kushites and even Assyrians and Persians and Greeks, and once you have foreigners in charge, the next step is miscegenation, followed by race mixing, followed by...

I'm sorry, I just got unaccountably aroused appalled by my chain of thought. Anyway, point is, this sort of stuff is bad and wrong and bad, so that even if all the archaeological evidence would seem to suggest a period of unprecedented prosperity, culminating with the Ptolemies, the most nearly world-hegeomic of all Egyptian regimes great power regime we can be sure that Egypt was, in some more  "in decline." Enough of Egypt! The torch has been passed, to the splendour that was Athens, the glory that was Sparta.  That's a Not-Safe-for-Mental-Health link there, by the way.

Only can we just, for a second, please not?

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Bishops' Sea: My Paddle Flashing Bright

Research can be expensive, and there are scholars known who use their control of the pursestrings to make sure that the field gets on their train. Arctic archaeology is expensive, and the Museum of Civilisation in Ottawa is an important gatekeeper. That's why Robert McGhee's name comes up a lot in citations. He does not seem like the kind of man who would impose his research idees fixe, so I am guilty of some awful rhetorical crime in bringing his name up here. It's just that I'm not entirely comfortable about building vast intellectual superstructures on the negative evidence that kayaks and umiaks do not appear in Arctic archaeological contexts prior to the Thule Tradition, or were "first used about 4000 years ago," per Wikipedia.  (Because what's two thousand years, more or less, to exact science?) When we read about how Vågan in the Lofoten Isles first becomes known to us when a new north-south axis of trade intercepts a much older east-west circumpolar intersection, we are drawn back to humanity's first penetration of the boreal spaces, which must have involved people moving from Siberia to Alaska, right through the future Inuit (Eskimo) cultural interaction sphere 15,000 years ago. You can choose to assume that they did so without boats, but making that assumption on the basis of negative (archaeological) evidence seeems . . . bold.

"Lofoten Svolvear Fährhafen Ausfahrt" by Stahlkocher - first upload in de wikipedia on 18:12, 1. Jul 2004 by Stahlkocher. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

That being said, kayaks far more than umiaks are clearly very challenging technologies, and I would be the first to admit that I chose to lead off with this because I wanted to begin with cute kids singing "Land of the Silver Birch." The dichotomy here is between remarkably complex personal watercraft , whether skin-made kayak or birchbark canoe, and not the larger skin boat which, after all, St. Brendan used to carry sixteen passenters across the Atlantic. (Shyeah right.)

Caones, kayaks, umiaks: boats are the defining theme of a post which might just as well have been entitled "Can Ancient Eskimos Tell Us About the Social Context of Technological Learning? Probably." 

I will also try not to forget about bishops. See? St. Brendan? Of course, my deep skepticism about the reality of St. Brendan is on record here. The argument here is about the social transformation of the high European Atlantic around the turn of the millennium has more to to with the establishment of church-settlements than with largescale population movements. Get rid of the notion that, say, Iona, was uniquely "Celtic Christian," and we can perhaps extend this institution of "mitred abbots," to those parts of the high Atlantic that ended up Nordic rather than Celtic. As Knut Helle so very cautiously points out, the survival of relics of written law in the western Norse communities dating a century before the first Danish laws indicates the primacy of the "English influence" over Scandinavian (that is, Danish) at that early date. Adam of Bremen, it is tolerably clear, is happy to disregard bishops of the northern isles consecrated at York rather than Hamburg-Bremen, and we shouldn't be distracted down the same road by the weird, post-modern liminality of the "Bishop of Sodor."  Yes, Sir Topham Hatt is trying to put one over on us. (1,2,3,4, also so very much 5.)

So that's the arrow from the east (York>Iona>Hebrides>Iceland) that I want to collide with an arrow from the west at Amassalik (Tasiilaq, "The Place of Capelins"), at 65 degrees,43 minutes North on the east coast of Greenland, almost due west of Bjargtangar at the tip of the Westfjords region, settled in the landtaking by the chieftain Helgi Magri Hrólfsson.

Looking west from Bjargtangar. With wild surmise, etc.  Source.
The long line of the Western Continent on the horizon, the heretical suggestion of a "Celtic Atlantic," made in the full knowledge that it is the classic resort of crackpots. Rest easy, though. I'm not trying to get Irish to Boston.

I'm putting Sami in Greenland. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Postvlogging Technology, May 1945, I: The "V" of the Wild Geese

Group Captain R_. C_., RCAFVR, DSO, DFC (Bar),
RAAF Richmond,

Dearest Father:

Thank you for your urgent warning. Unfortunately, the courier was held over until Tuesdasy by a squall at Kwajalein. Had it not been for Great Uncle, I am afraid that things would have gone very badly indeed.

Not that things did not go about as badly as one can imagine. Well, no, not true. Shots were fired, and it is one thing to face them yourself, and another to hear them fired at loved ones. –So I fear that I lose some perspective when I cannot push the party from my mind.

Let me back up: your ominous predictiones came true; but not in your wildest fever could you have imagined just how. It began as I was receiving the guests at 8. Miss W. was invited, as how could she not? I never expected her to appear. L.A. is far away, anthropologists not her usual company, and 8 is rather late for her to be sober these days, if the gossip magazines are to be believed. (Not that I would ever be caught dead reading those rags, she sniffed, self-righteously.) 

The point, though, is not her reading material, but her escort. T. V. Soong! At my party! And in the company of Miss W., after all the things said about her by the Nationalist Press, no less, nor a bodyguard in sight. Foolish girl that I am, I took that as a sign of pacific intent, where I should have remembered that with a Soong in the house, one counts the silverware coming and going.

So there we were, our party graced by His Excellence himself. The stiffness between him and Professor L. might have been death to the party, but Professor K. engaged the Vice-President manfully over Manhattans on Californian antiquities, upon which subject he manfully held his own, teasing the Professor with hints of the origins of the Whale Man, and reading the characters on the parquet of the Hall floor to him. 

And just as dinner was served, my next unexpected guest, rolled into the dining room just at the start of supper in a wheelchair, Great Uncle! I had honestly never expected to see him aware again, but there he was, eating his soup with only an occasionally guiding hand from Amy So sitting discretely behind him. I think that was the moment I began to feel my stomach. Her husband was nowhere in sight, and, as you know, Wing Chan was not brought on board as a nurse on the strength of his beside manners.

I suppose this is another revelation of the power of penicillin, in this case to break Great Uncle's lower infection, which explains, I am told, part of his dementia. Without it, he still has occasional good days. Fortunately.

Just before the soup dish was cleared, the foreman of our construction gang appeared at Soong’s elbow, quite uninvited, and, too late, I saw the trap I had fallen into. Soong did not need to bring retainers. They were already here!

My stomach dropped out until I realised that the expression forming on His Excellency’s face was anything but satisfied. And then I was called to the phone for Fanny, calling from the college to let me know that she had received my warning, and that she was sitting with the University Provost at that moment, with the twins.

I had a moment to try to form some inane comment about how I had given no warning when a fusillade of shots rang out overhead, ending in a heavy thud from above, and another, not nearly so sterile, for he came right through the bad spot on the ceiling to land on the dance floor, prostrate before the Whale Man. Not inappropriately. You will not be surprised that the first sign he gave that he was still alive was to swear in Russian. (I think. Miss v. Q. certainly answered him in Russian, saying, if I am any judge, something about staying very still on pains of receiving a discrete little automatic's worth of .22 rounds at a yard's range. It matched her purse. Very fashionable!)

Great Uncle stared ahead, only slightly smiling when the sound of the voices of your youngest, and “Miss V.C” came through the floor, the former calling for towels, the latter asking how to reload her pistol.

Then Great-Uncle began to speak.

“Welcome, everyone, to my humble home. If you do not know me, perhaps you know of me, and are not surprised to hear gunfire. If not, seek enlightenment from your companions. You will rejoice with me that tonight some Shanghai thugs bit off more than they could chew. Our carpenter friend, and our guest of honour might take a lesson alike.”

Our carpenter friend’s ambitions better not extend to getting a bonus. It’s unfortunate. They were very hard to find, and I should have questioned my luck.

Great Uncle continued. “I do not know if you are all aware of this, but this started with shots in a house, not nearly as respectable a one as this, in old Bantam long ago A shipment of country goods, bound from Shanghai to Wenchang, had somehow fetched up there. A cargo of opium had been prepared against the happy accident. Which proved a little short, some caddies being filled with sugar, and that in turn to a rather drastic settling of accounts. 

"It thus became an honourable ancestor of mine’s duty to explain to a distant cousin that one did not go around shooting one’s fellow Englishmen in cold blood, even in a house of ill-repute, no matter who might have stolen from whom, or what his business partners said. Or, at least, that one does not leave witnesses behind as one departs, swaggering and drunk, into the night.

“Honourable ancestor, charmingly naïve, put a pistol with a single round on the table at the end of the interview, and retired below to await the report. Or, as it happens, the sound of boots hitting the verandah outside, and of coins, sewn into a waistcoat jingling.

“I will not venture to say how our blue-blooded murderer made his way to the harbour and a waiting ship. I think His Excellency could tell us, if perhaps he has attended to his family stories. He may not have. It was a long time ago. Although the memory of the time when your clan put a future Governor of California in its debt is perhaps not forgotten so quickly as some stories.

“I do not think he could tell you how the next thing happened, the letter from Valparaiso later that year, suggesting that there were not enough coins in that waistcoat for the young man's taste, and that he had booked passage to New York, with the thought of proceeding onwards to London if he arrived in a situation not to his liking. And so off went honourable ancestor, to England and an unlikely imposture as his own third cousin, and to arrange something in New York.

“Oh, do not look at me that way. The British remittance man is an American staple, and when the matter is more serious than gambling, wine or women, one seeks a new name, and one way of securing such a thing is to find an American family willing to add a branch to its family tree. Throw in a certain facility with accents, a little bit of travel, and America can be the land of reinvention. 

“Unfortunately, his choice of destinations was California, for he was not quite ready to stand on his own, when he could continue to trade on the family’s influence. The less said about that,the better. But it is a very nice  university.

“Nor was it only our influence, at least by intent. His old allies showed up, too. Well, we settled them in the end, in California at least, with knives in the dark and guns on lonely trails. Dirty, dirty business. Sometimes I wish we could have settled with the Governor, too. The state would be cleaner. The railways, perhaps, even. The vulgar business with his wife. . I will have much to answer for when I pass on."

And then he looked at Soong. "But you, Your Excellency. You walk into my house and imagine that it is not settled? Well, it was settled then, and it is settled now. I cannot now destroy your connections root and branch. There is a place prepared for your allies and your followers a little north of here, you know where. But as for you and your sisters, you will leave California.”

His Excellency blanched, even before Wong Lee appeared to escort him back to the Embassy.

And, at the door, I heard Professor K. tell Miss W., clear as day, that she could now tell people that she had met the real Fu Manchu, and, for once, I could only smile at that.

It was funny. But my party was ruined, and I think that the Government of China might be upset at us.