China Boat

Chapter 25

In order to have enough of the raw materials […] which will be lacking in wartime, we should plan to acquire and use foreign resources existing in our expected sphere of influence, such as Sakhalin, China, and the Southern Pacific.

—General Sadao Araki, Japanese War Minister, 1933

* * *


20,000 On Campuses of City Mass in Anti-War 'Strikes', With Almost No Disorder


Dictators Are Also Targets of College Throngs — Meetings Held Throughout Nation

Thousands of college students left their classes at 11 A.M. yesterday for the fourth annual "peace strike" in a planned nation-wide demonstration against war. On the whole, the demonstration was peaceful, except for a few minor clashes attributable to youthful spirit … 

* * *

Saturday, April 24th, 1937
11:15 a.m.
S.S. President Hoover
at sea


Tom and I went running, after breakfast.

It was not a happy occasion.


The seas were running heavy, again; long, deep swells, coming in on our starboard bow. The ship was pitching deeply, and then rolling, with a short, sharp jerk, at the same time. Up on the Sun Deck, as we were, we could see the swells as they came, and we could see the way the ship moved, in reaction to them. The sky was littered with puffy white clouds, which shadowed the water beneath.

I'd started us off at a fast pace; and I'd picked it up, since, and then picked it up, again. Pounding along.

I was angry. My blood was up.

Forward, into the fierce wind of our passage; and I was glad of the resistance, I pushed hard, into it. Then, left, at the corner — recklessly fast; I could feel it, in my ankles, I'd feel it, tomorrow — then, another too-sharp turn, and I was flying, with the wind at my back, pounding, pounding … 

I was angry with Father. Very angry.

'Furious', was not too strong a word.

That morning at breakfast, as I'd dawdled over my coffee and roll, Father had struck up a conversation with a man named Benjamin; a British civil servant, attached to the business office of the British Consulate in Shanghai.

"Do you know," Mister Benjamin had said — "If you're going to be in Shanghai for any length of time — oh, more than a couple of months, or so — you might want to look into taking a flat — ? In the International Settlement, of course." He'd paused, to take a prim fork-full of bacon, and tomato, and to thoroughly chew it, and then swallow it. "You could engage a cook, and a house-man, for next to nothing, these days. And in the long run, it might be more comfortable than living at an hotel … Perhaps even if the hotel is the Cathay — ?"

Father had been delighted with the idea.

He'd proceeded to question Mister Benjamin closely, on the practical approaches to accomplishing such a thing; whom to call, what to ask. Mister Benjamin had given him a couple of names, which Father had written down in the little note-book he keeps in his wallet.

I'd felt my face go white; and my stomach — never at its best, in the morning — had clamped down on what little I'd eaten.

'I'll do what I can, to get you back by September, … ' he'd told, me, solemnly, in the Headmaster's office; all those weeks before, when all this was just starting. 'But of course, I cannot make that a firm promise.'


Evidently not.


Another reckless turn, to start forward again, into the wind; pound, pound, pound … 

One does not usually sprint, running cross-country; it is instead a slow and steady race, a game of strategy, and pacing — 

But when one is near the end of the course, and one has the reserves of energy — that is the time to let it all out. That is when runners go sprinting flat-out, reckless, on the brink of exhaustion, all caution, abandoned — 

Another racing turn.

He could, I thought, have had the decency to be a little embarrassed in front of me. Just a little.

Instead, he'd ignored my existence. I was an accessory to him, a thing; a steamer-trunk to be used as and when necessary, and then put away against future need.

Yet another racing turn; then, I was pounding my way aft, my legs going like pistons … 

Well, I was tired of it, all. I was tired of being taken for granted; I was tired of my deepest feelings being buried, ignored, hidden.

I was tired of this seemingly-endless trip; I was tired of being the Good Sport, of being the Dutiful Son.

I was tired of the ship, I was tired of Father, I was tired of his secrecy, and his odd behavior, I was tired of this postage-stamp-sized running track, I wanted to run free, on land, back home, I wanted my home, I wanted Grandmother and Grandfather, I wanted our friends back at school, I wanted Jack, above, beyond, and far more than anything or anyone else, I wanted Jack with a sharp, almost physical pain, I wanted, home — 

" — aahhhh — !" from far in back of me; then, a 'thud', that I thought I could feel through the teak decking.

I pulled up, fast, and short, and painfully, and looked behind me — 


Oh, Christ. Oh, no.


I ran back to Tom; he was just rolling himself over, and trying to sit up.

"Jesus! Are you all right — ? Oh, I'm sorry!"

"Owwww … " His face twisted in pain, for a long moment; he was holding his knee, and panting.

"Let me see!" I moved his hands away, gently — 

His knee was scraped raw, raw and deep; I'd seen worse, but not much worse. There was a scrape on his shin, too.

Oh, Christ. It was all my fault.

"The deck kind of moved, as I was going around the corner … " He winced again, between his panting breaths, and then he tried for a wry smile. "I keep falling, around you, don't I — ?"

"It's my fault," I said. Then — "Here. Let me check you out — ?"

I ran my hands up and down his legs — this time, he didn't draw back, or flinch — and I gently tested his ankles, afraid of what I'd find — 

Thank God. Nothing broken; nothing sprained. Oh, thank God.

"I'll be okay," he said, at last, beginning to catch his breath — 

"Here. Let me see your hands."

Some more scrapes; but not too bad. His knee, though, was looking bloody, indeed.

"You could go on running, if you want … I'll be okay … "

"No," I said; sitting back, at last. I breathed, and I looked around, at the horizon, the swells. "No, we're done for the day … We need to get you cleaned up a little, and then down to the doctor's office. " I smiled down at him. "A little iodine, and some gauze, and you'll be fine."

Inside, I was raging at myself.

I'd been indulging myself, in a temper tantrum, running far too fast for safety, even for an experienced cross-country runner like me … 

I'd been indulging myself. I'd been self-absorbed, self-pitying, irresponsible, — and I'd gotten Tom hurt.

Tom was the single, best thing, to have happened to me, on this benighted trip. Far more importantly; Tom was a beautiful, fragile, precious person; a boy whose predicament made mine seem like a holiday, by way of contrast. And my carelessness had gotten him hurt.


I helped him up; and I was relieved, when he was able to stand, without problems … 

"I'm sorry," he said; taking his first steps. Not looking at me.

"Don't be," I said; watching him, closely, as he walked. "Don't be … it really was my fault. I set the pace too fast. Much too fast." I hesitated a moment; then I went on, quietly. "I was angry at my father; very angry. And I acted stupidly, as a result."

A pause, from Tom. Then — "You were?"

"Yes." I hesitated, again, for a long moment; then I went on. "I think he means for us to stay in Shanghai, for longer than he originally said."

A long silence.

"Oh," from Tom.

And, bless him, I could see him trying to keep the sudden look of hope from his face; for my sake, out of real sympathy for me … 

* * *

Luncheon that day was a little strained, all the way around.


" … and tourists!" from Mister Nieuwenhuis, with an expansive laugh. I could see the pull, on his waistcoat buttons. "Oh, yes, we are blessed with Japanese tourists, in Batavia, quite frequently, these days. Middle-aged tourists, men, in pairs, and very polite … and they have the most excellent cameras." He picked up a roll, broke it apart, and began to butter it, carefully, in his enormous hands. "And the attractions they want to see! The port; the airfield; our major roads. And, the municipal waterworks! Who could have known, that the municipal waterworks would be such a tourist attraction! It makes one think, perhaps we should have painted it a nicer color, eh — ?" Another deep, rumbling laugh, before taking a modest bite from his roll.

We were back to talking about Japan, and China; and I was back to taking mental notes, for the report that I knew Father would be filing … 

Not that I particularly wanted to do so. I was still very angry with him. But it was my job, my task, and I would do it to the best of my ability.

Call it, perhaps, pride. Stubborn pride.

"And the oil tanks, at the loading docks!" Mister Nieuwenhuis laughed, again, and looked at his colleague, Mister Damkot. "Do you remember, Geert, last December? The two tourists who, oh so unfortunately, became lost, and wound up among the oil tanks — ? A sad story, indeed!"

"They had to climb a fence, to get in," Mister Damkot explained to the rest of us. "They were wonderfully embarrassed … at being caught." He smiled at his colleague. "I enjoyed escorting them out … "


There were ten of us at the table; of course. Mister Nieuwenhuis, and Mister Damkot; Mister Grey, and Mister Sayles; Lieutenants Allison and Dunleavy, the American staff officers … and then, Tom and his father; and me, and my own father.

Father and I were not seated together.

As we'd come in to Luncheon, at the last moment I'd slid around to Tom's side of the table.

"May I sit with you — ?" I'd asked him.

"Sure!" he'd said; his eyes blinking.

"Does your father know about — your knee?" I'd asked it in a low voice, leaning in close.

"Yeah — "

I'd waited for a moment, as we settled in, with the shuffling of chairs and napkins … and then, I'd addressed Tom's father. He was seated on Tom's other side.

"Ummm — Mister Fletcher? Sir — ?"

"Yes?" from him; with some surprise.

"I just wanted you to know … that I'm responsible for Tom's spill, this morning."

I swallowed. This was difficult.

"I set the pace much too fast, for the conditions we were in. If I'd done that at school, and gotten an underclassman injured, I'd have gotten demerits; and I would have deserved them. I'm sorry, sir."

It was all true, and I'd meant it sincerely. But my real reason for raising the issue, was for Tom's sake. I didn't want Tom labeled as clumsy, or careless, in his parents' eyes … 

"Why, that's all right, son," from Mister Fletcher; and his brown eyes had smiled, behind his steel-frame glasses. "That's all right. Boys will be boys, after all. I just hope this doesn't keep the two of you from running and swimming together, in the days we have left … I can see the difference in Tom, already." He'd looked down at Tom, then. "It's good to see him, without his nose in a book, once in a while." And he'd rubbed Tom's shoulder, affectionately … 

And Tom had looked down.

As I've said — Tom's father is not tall; but he is built rather ruggedly; like a smaller wrestler, or football-player, perhaps.

Tom is not.

It occurred to me, then, that perhaps I was not the only son, who had — a few issues, perhaps — with his father … 


"Tsk, Erik," from Mister Damkot; as he looked at Mister Nieuwenhuis, fondly. "You take these things far too seriously; you know it, and I know it."

"I do — ?" from Mister Nieuwenhuis; with good humor. He lifted his soup-spoon — it was vichyssoise, today — and took a careful sip; before breaking into an expression of bliss.

"Of course." Mister Damkot looked at the rest of us. "The two Japanese 'tourists' who became lost in our tank farm — well, they were military attachés, accredited to the Japanese legation in Batavia." He turned back to his colleague and friend. "Military attachés, Erik; it is what they do, the world over. It is their job, even in peaceful times, with friendly neighbors; they collect information, they write reports; and the reports are read, filed, and forgotten."

"Perhaps so, perhaps so," from Mister Nieuwenhuis; his spoon rising carefully, again. His eyes flickered, and he looked amused. "Still. I find it hard to believe that the Koenigsmarine attaché in Tokyo is writing reports about harbor defenses in Yokohama." Another careful, and blissful, sip. "I do not think that the Japanese have a great deal to fear, when it comes to the Netherlands invading the Empire of Japan, eh — ?"

"Hmmph," from Mister Damkot, in a quiet laugh.


When I'd first sat down next to Tom, I'd avoided Father's eyes. For some moments.

I'd been working on my anger; trying to ameliorate it, trying to reason, with myself — 

Father did not know about Jack and me, after all.

If instead he knew — and he did — how very much I wanted to stay home, how I wanted to stay in school, how desperately I wanted to be home by September … he did not really know why.

I'd tried reasoning with myself in other ways, too.

I'd remembered how he reached out to me, in Geneva, when I was so young. I'd remembered many of the good times we'd shared, after that, driving and traveling through Europe … 

And I'd remembered what he'd done for me, in that terrible incident in Berlin. I will remember that in my bones, to the end of my days.

It didn't entirely work.

I was still angry. I felt — used. Lied to, even. Deceived; and taken for granted.

And I was not prepared to spend years in exile, in the Far East; however much it might advance Father's standing at the Bank. Years, spent apart from Jack.


So, I'd avoided conversation with Father, after breakfast.

He hadn't noticed.

And although I knew it was adolescent, and immature of me — part of me had wanted him to notice, to see it, and be concerned … 

And now — in a complete, abrupt, ironic reversal — now, I hoped very much that there were many other things he didn't notice.


(" … Watch him turn it around, now,") from Mister Grey, in an undertone ("He's very good at it.")

It was a low undertone, pitched so that only I could hear it. This was possible, because he had arrived late, and seated himself directly to my left … almost in touching distance, actually.

I felt very uncomfortable. Tom, I could tell, felt the same.

It did not help, that Mister Grey had struck up a rather one-sided, sotto voce conversation with me, from the start. A rather confidential conversation, actually.


" … but in the end, of course you are right. Attachés will gather information; reports will be written, no — ?" Another sip of the creamy vichyssoise. "And General Staffs, the world over, they will write their war plans, and play out their war games, however likely or unlikely they may be, eh — ?"

Mister Nieuwenhuis turned a jovial, shrewd eye to the American officers, Lieutenant Dunleavy and Lieutenant Allison.

"The American plan, for going to war with Japan — now, that is a popular topic of conversation, in Batavia. It is much-discussed, much-debated, and much-admired. Why, you might think our very lives depended upon it!"

Lieutenants Dunleavy and Allison immediately looked as uncomfortable as I felt.

"I'm not sure which plans you're referring to, sir," from Lieutenant Dunleavy, the dark-haired one.

("You see — ?") from Mister Grey, to me; admiringly. In a near-whisper. ("He caught them off-guard. One can learn a great deal, when one catches the other fellow off-guard … Don't you think — ?")

I did not answer; but I did try to suppress a wince. It was more cat-and-mouse, of course. Pointedly so.

"Ah," from Mister Nieuwenhuis, with good humor. "There are so many sets of plans, then — ? I was referring to your Plan Orange, of course." He laughed, again. "A name dear to a good Dutchman's heart! We hope it is a good omen … It is, in any case, the plan for what to do, in the event that Japan attacks the Philippines … And I can assure you, its existence is not a secret. Am I right, gentlemen — ?" He turned his gaze to Mister Sayles, and then to Mister Grey.

"Hmmph," from Mister Sayles; in a wordless assent.

"Oh, you're quite right," said Mister Grey, cheerfully. "I heard quite a long discussion about this Plan Orange, once, in a bar in Singapore." He paused, a moment. "Or was it Rangoon — ? Well, anyway, it was a place that made the most marvelous Whiskey Sours … "

"Just so," from Mister Nieuwenhuis, with a twinkle in his eye.

"Well," said Tom's father. "I've certainly never heard of this Plan Orange." He turned an inquiring look towards the American officers — who continued to appear uncomfortable.

"Eh, perhaps I could sum it up, for you — ?" from Mister Nieuwenhuis; with a shrewd look at Lieutenant Dunleavy. He turned his gaze to Mister Fletcher. "It is known that the Plan assumes a Japanese attack on the Philippines, or Guam, or both — but almost certainly the Philippines, since that is the home of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet. Perhaps it will be a surprise attack, without a declaration of war — that seems to be a time-honored Japanese tradition, does it not — ?"

I felt Tom looking sideways at me. It was how the Japanese had started the Russo-Japanese war in 1904; by attacking the Russian naval base in Port Arthur, Manchuria, without a declaration of war.

"I will add, that your Asiatic Fleet — they are neighbors of ours, in the Dutch East Indies, and we are always glad to see them! — I will add, that it has not quite escaped our attention, that your Asiatic Fleet does not have any battleships … And, that your cruisers and destroyers, well, they are of the older types, and so are perhaps just slightly less valuable than they might be, eh — ?" A rumble of laughter. "Of course, one can hardly complain; we Dutch do the same thing, with our Netherlands East Indies Fleet … one is very grateful, in the end, that we are at least completely steam-powered, and not dependent on sail. But then, we are a thrifty people."

Another "Hmmph," from Mister Sayles. This time he sounded amused.

"So; then. The Philippines are attacked; and, we hope, the gallant United States Asiatic Fleet sails to victory, or perhaps more prudently, to Australia or Hawaii … "

("Hear, hear!") from Mister Grey, in his conspiratorial undertone. ("Discretion is such an underrated virtue: don't you think, Rhys?")

How he could make a near-whisper so full of laughter, was remarkable.

"But in any case," Mister Nieuwenhuis went on, "your Plan Orange assumes that the Japanese Army will make successful landings in the Philippines; and, alas, that the Imperial Japanese Navy will remain dominant in the area … Most regrettable, I'm sure; but, eh, if I were an admiral in Washington, perhaps I, too, would make such an assumption … "

Lieutenants Dunleavy and Allison were looking less happy by the moment.

"And so," continued Mister Nieuwehhuis, "the question becomes; what to do about it — ? How does the United States respond — ?"

"The best approach for the United States is to avoid war with Japan in the first place," broke in Mister Sayles. Somewhat pompously. "That is easy enough to do; she is a country which could be easily appeased, by concessions of territory, and influence."

"Ah," from Mister Nieuwenhuis; with a quick glance at Mister Sayles. "That is a subject for a whole different conversation … although, as a resident of one of the territories in which His Imperial Majesty seems to be particularly curious, I have my own rather humble views on the possibility … Still. One must admit, as a practical matter, that the Japanese may give the United States no choice, in the end; they are very good, at such things." He shrugged his massive shoulders. "Just ask the Russians. So; as I was saying — should hostilities come to pass, and Japanese landings in the Philippines happen — what does your Plan Orange say, about the American response — ?"

It was evidently a rhetorical question. Mister Nieuwenhuis went on, with a look at Lieutenants Dunleavy and Allison; and then, to Mister Fletcher.

"Well, first, there is your General MacArthur, of course … a Generalissimo! A Field Marshall! Such fine titles, for an American General!"

A little breath of amusement, from Mister Grey — 

And I couldn't help noticing, his proximity. I couldn't have helped noticing, the last several minutes, what it was like, to be seated so close to him — 

"He is the head of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, along with the American forces," offered Lieutenant Allison. A little apologetically, I thought. "That's why he has the title."

"Just so, just so … "

Mister Grey, as I said, was close; I could actually catch a faint whiff of scent, from him, of aftershave, perhaps; it smelled expensive. Combined with the scent of tobacco, from the cigarets he smoked, — it made him seem, well, adult … 

It was not an unpleasant scent, an unpleasant impression, overall.

" … so, your Plan Orange, it seems, calls for the American Army, and the Philippine Army — "

"Is there a difference?" interrupted Mister Sayles, rather rudely.

"Oh, yes sir," from Lieutenant Dunleavy. "It's the Commonwealth of the Philippines, now; their Army has a separate command structure. The Philippines is on track for full independence, in ten years — in 1946."

"A mistake, all the way around," from Mister Sayles. Sourly.

("Good old Sayles!") from Mister Grey, gleefully. ("Always waving the flag of Empire — even when it's somebody else's Empire!")

I could not help noticing Mister Grey's hands, as they lay on the table.

They were handsome hands, and very neatly-kept; of course. His fingernails were trimmed very close, and smoothly — 

Damn it.

But at the same time — his hands had seen use. Quite a bit of use; I thought. The back of his right hand — as it held his gin-and-tonic — was marked with faint lines of old scars, some obviously older than others … and there was a discolored patch, as if the result of a chemical stain, or old burn — 


Whatever else Mister Grey was, whatever else he really did for a living — his hands seemed to say, that he did indeed 'Play With Rocks'.

I could wish that they were less attractive. Less well-formed. Less expressive.

" … and, so. We can see, that under your Plan Orange, the Americans and the Filipinos will fight the Japanese as they may land in the Philippine Islands, eh — ? And, at least, temporarily, they will do so without any support from the United States; so far away, so cut off by the Imperial Japanese Navy, no — ?"

Mister Nieuwenshuis fixed a shrewd eye on the American officers, before looking back down at his vichyssoise. He carefully put down his soup-spoon, and picked up his roll. "But that is hardly a formula for victory, is it — ? So, what is to happen, next?"

It was clearly another rhetorical question.

"Why, if our sources on Plan Orange are right, — just this." He leaned his big bulk backward in his chair a little, eyes casually fixed on Lieutenant Dunleavy and Lieutenant Allison. "Your Pacific Fleet — your American Pacific Fleet — will concentrate, in your West Coast naval bases … Coronado, and San Pedro; San Francisco, and Bremerton, Washington … and then, when your Fleet is loaded with oil and ammunition, it will sail for the Far East, to the Philippine Sea, or the South China Sea, or the Sea of Japan, wherever the Imperial Japanese Navy is, in order to bring them to battle. A single, decisive battle. One might even say, a climactic battle, eh — ?"

Tom looked sideways at me; I met his glance.

Mister Grey cleared his throat. "You know," he said, to the table at large; "Now that you mention it, that approach does have a certain familiar ring to it … ?" He lifted his frosted, ice-filled gin-and-tonic, and took a sip.

It certainly did. After the Japanese surprise attack on Port Arthur, the Russian Baltic Fleet had sailed thousands of miles around the world, to meet the Japanese Fleet in their home waters — and the Russians had been annihilated. Obliterated. At the Battle of Tsushima.

Lieutenant Dunleavy glanced, quickly, at Lieutenant Allison; then, he looked back to Mister Nieuwenhuis.

"Well, sir … sirs," he added, glancing at the rest of us, then back to Mister Nieuwenhuis — "Obviously, if there is, or were, such a plan, — we couldn't talk about it. It would be classified." His face seemed to say, that he wished he could talk about it, openly.

"Naturally so," from Mister Nieuwenhuis, with another rumble of laughter.

"But I think I can say this much, anyway … All you really have to do, is to look at a globe, or look at a map." He shrugged. "The Philippines are an awful lot closer to Japan, than they are to the American West Coast. An awful lot closer. That's just a reality."

"We had noticed, those of us who started this trip in San Francisco," from Mister Nieuwenhuis. Wryly.

"Yes sir … I'm just pointing out, that if the Japs and the U.S. were to go to war — and that's a big, if; we were allies, after all, in the Great War — if we were to go to war, the Fleet would have to sail across the Pacific, to meet them; there isn't much choice. Unless," he went on, "the Japs decided to attack the West Coast, first — "

"Hardly an impossibility," Mister Nieuwenhuis interrupted.

"No sir," from Lieutenant Dunleavy. "But I happen to know, there are plans in place for meeting such attacks, too — " He paused, slightly, catching himself on his slip — 

("Oops,") from Mister Grey, with clear amusement in his tone.

"And, in any case; if we were to go to war — we in the Philippines would be pretty much on our own, for some weeks, or months. As you've said, sir. It seems unavoidable."

"Until your Fleet sails to the rescue." Mister Nieuwenhuis said it, pointedly.

"Yes, sir … But here's the thing." He paused, for a moment. "Even though our Fleet would have to cross the Pacific — I wouldn't necessarily assume it would just charge across the ocean, along the most direct route. There might, hypothetically, be routes and courses which would take a little longer, but which could turn out to be better for our side — "

He might as well have said it with a wink.

" — And, if we in the Philippines were to be on our own for awhile — well." Lieutenant Dunleavy glanced sideways, at Lieutenant Allison. "The Philippines is a big place; a huge archipelago, with hundreds of islands. And the Philippine Army is coming along well, it's much more capable than most people think … And, there's the General."

"Your MacArthur — ?" Nieuwenhuis asked, politely.

"Yes, sir … He's the best military mind our country's got. Honestly, sir; if he's in Manila, it means that the U.S. takes the defense of the Philippines very seriously. And if, well, things with Japan were to take a turn for the worst — I'd trust him to handle the situation, better than any other American officer."

("'I am the very model of a modern major general,'") Mister Grey quoted, under his breath. Ironically.

I repressed the quick urge to laugh, and I dared a glance at Father — 

His expression was — stony, I think I'd say. And at that moment, I was sure; there was some history, or issue, between him and General MacArthur. Whether openly admitted, or not.

"Well. I find this all very encouraging," said Mister Nieuwenhuis, expansively. He leaned back in his chair, again. It creaked, alarmingly. "Very encouraging, indeed. Why, I am very sure I will sleep much more soundly — the next time I stop in Manila! But of course, Damkot and I, here, have our own perspectives, our own worries, as regards our Japanese neighbors … "

"Sir — ?" from Lieutenant Dunleavy; politely.

"Ah; yes." Mister Nieuwenhuis gave out another small rumble of laughter. "Of course, if hostilities were ever to break out — heaven forbid! — between the Japanese Empire, and the United States, we in the Netherlands East Indies would naturally assume that our neutrality would be scrupulously respected by both sides … "

The irony in his tone was thick.

"But, in the very unhappy event that the Japanese found the oilfields of our colony too tempting to pass up, and decided to, shall we say, appropriate them — ? Well. One cannot but help, to wonder. Does your Government's planning, does your Generalissimo MacArthur's planning, extend to making an effort to protect them — ?" Mister Nieuwenhuis' shrewd eyes fixed on the Lieutenant's face. "Or, perhaps more alarmingly. Should the Japanese occupy, say, the oil storage facilities in my city, Batavia — would his plans call for destroying those facilities — ? Perhaps, by shelling, by gunfire, from your Asiatic Fleet — ?"

Both listeners found reasons to look down at their plates, very quickly.

("Oh, beautifully done!") from Mister Grey.

"It is just," Mister Nieuwenhuis went on, "that when one is living in the — how do you call it — ? Bull's Eye, I think — ? Yes. When one is living in the Bulls-Eye, one tends to think of such things." His expression was somewhat dry.

"Of course, sir," went Lieutenant Dunleavy, as he looked up; "we are speaking hypothetically. Completely hypothetically. We could never discuss anything which is classified … and in fact, we'll need to report even this hypothetical discussion, to Colonel Eisenhower — "

"Naturally, sir," from Mister Nieuwenhuis.

Lieutenant Dunleavy's face grew long.

"Still, sir — I have to say, I couldn't imagine anything as horrible as that, actually happening. The idea, of shelling a civilian facility, just to keep it out of the hands of a potential enemy — why, the idea is sickening."

"I can assure you, Lieutenant, that I find the idea sickening, too; I helped design, and build, those storage tanks, and that pumping system … it is a large part, of the work of my life. Still." Mister Nieuwenhuis' eyes focused, shrewdly, on Lieutenant Dunleavy, again. "It is not necessarily such a bad idea, eh — ?"

A long, quiet pause.

"Sir — ?"

"Oil is like liquid gold, to the Japanese military; particularly the Japanese Navy. Japan has no oil of her own; she must buy it — at great cost! — " he said, with another rumbling laugh — "from us, in the Netherlands East Indies, and also, especially, from you Americans." He picked up his knife and fork, again. "Oil is like gold, to them; their reserves are not large — this, we know, for a fact — and, they hoard their oil, they dole it out in the most miserly fashion, down to the last drop … This, we know, too." Mister Nieuwenhuis shrugged his massive shoulders, and began to cut open a baked potato. "So, perhaps it is the case, that if a general war should come to our side of the Pacific — perhaps it is the case, that depriving Japan of a major stock-pile of bunker fuel oil … Well. Perhaps such a thing might, just temporarily, inconvenience the Imperial Japanese Fleet, eh? Perhaps, even, dare one say, embarrass it — ?"

Silence, from all of us, for a long moment.

"Of course, as we have said, all of this is purely hypothetical, " Mister Nieuwenhuis went on; applying a pat of butter to his cut-open potato. "Completely hypothetical … But if such a case, such a scenario were to be studied by a military Staff — well. Perhaps it might help if the Staff in question, knew more about the oil-storage facility in question; no — ?" Another deep, brief rumble of laughter from him. "Now; where do you think we might find a pair of American tourists — strapping, young American tourists, with good cameras, perhaps — who would care to take a tour of Royal Dutch Shell's oil-storage facilities in Batavia — ?"

Another long silence; broken only by the hum of voices at the tables around us, and the clinking of silverware on plates.

Lieutenant Dunleavy cleared his throat; a little noisily.

"Uh … We'll bring this up with Colonel Eisenhower, as soon as he gets back to Intramuros, sir." He cleared his throat, again. "And, uh … thank you, very much, for the suggestion, sir." He seemed — embarrassed, perhaps; but he also seemed quite sincere.

Mister Nieuwenhuis' broad face beamed back at him. "Not at all, not at all." He waved a fork, negligently. "We would enjoy the company, in Batavia … and besides, it would provide us an excuse to a have a Rijsttafel, eh, Geert — ?"

"It would," from Mister Damkot; with a smile.

"Sir — ?", from Lieutenant Dunleavy.

"It is a kind of feast, of many small courses, based on rice," said Mister Damkot. "A feast of indigenous food, you understand." He looked sideways at Mister Nieuwenhuis. "It is quite delicious; and my friend, here, seldom wastes an opportunity to enjoy a Rijsttafel."

"You will like it," from Mister Nieuwenhuis, smiling.


I was still blinking; very much aware of having witnessed something … well, rather extraordinary. Something important, that had just been carried out in public.

I was not the only one.

("Well, my word,") from Mister Grey; still sotto voce. ("And what, exactly, are we supposed to make of this, do you think — ?")

I answered, him, for the first time. Slowly.

("I think, sir, that it would be better for the both of us, if my father did not see us talking too much.")

He shifted, slightly, beside me.

("Floored — !") he said, with amusement in his voice. Then — ("Very well. I shall be your co-conspirator, in silence.")

I felt myself flushing.

Partly it was the insinuation of 'co-conspirator', of course; I'd stepped into that one, by suggesting what I had — 

But mostly — it was the quote; 'Floored!'. It was Dickens; Mister Jarndyce, in 'Bleak House'; and it was my favorite work of that author's, as it had been my mother's favorite.

Damn it, all over again.

I tried to shift my attention back to the conversation. Lieutenant Allison had broken his silence.

" … don't think you have that much to be concerned about, sir," he offered. "You know — at the end of the day, they're still Japs. They're all on the small side; and most of them have weak eyesight. It's because of their poor diet; they don't get enough vitamins." He shrugged, comfortably. "They wouldn't do very well in the field, in actual combat. Not against American soldiers, anyway."

I blinked at that. Even from what little I'd learned in the ship's library, I knew that the Japanese had been practicing war almost as an art form, for centuries; they'd refined it. Their warrior ethos, called 'Bushido', was terrifying.

Lieutenant Dunleavy, at Lieutenant Allison's side, was looking vaguely embarrassed. I thought.

"And the same holds true for their Navy … I've got some friends in the Fleet; they say, the word is, that the Jap battleships are all top-heavy. They've built up these enormous superstructures, just to make them look imposing … it's part of their culture, it's called 'fierce face'. But it makes their battleships top-heavy, and they wouldn't last long, up against our own fleet."

"I've heard something similar," offered Mister Sayles, easily.

Tom looked at me, directly; urgently, even. I could see him from the corner of my eye. And from that alone, I knew how wrong-headed the idea was.

"Perhaps … perhaps," from Mister Nieuwenhuis; working away on his veal, now, cutting it up neatly. "It would be nice to think such things, would it not — ? Still; for me, one fact sticks out. When the Japanese decided to modernize their Army, their Navy — they chose to model their Army on the Prussian model; and for their Navy, they chose the British." His large mouth smiled, without much humor. "A very sensible set of choices, eh — ?"

Silence from all of us, for a moment.

"Is that really so?" from Father; speaking for the first time.

"It is. The Japanese brought in military advisors from Prussia, and naval advisors from Britain. Their respective influences are said to be felt in both services, even to this day."

None of us at the table needed to be told the implications. The German Army had almost conquered all of Europe in the Great War, fighting against Russia and all of the rest of the West, combined. And the British Navy had been the world's largest, most powerful, and most professional, for well over a century.

"Mister Nieuwenhuis — ? May I ask you a personal question — ?" This, from Tom's father; in a slightly-subdued tone.

"Of course. I may even answer it."

"You paint a rather dark picture of Japanese intentions, in the Pacific … May one ask, why, under the circumstances, you remain in Batavia?"

Mister Nieuwenhuis' shoulders moved, just a bit, expressively.

"Well, that is easy, eh — ? I won't remain, for too much longer … a year, maybe, or two; no more." He paused for a moment; and, unexpectedly, his shrewd face seemed to grow thoughtful; sad, even. "It is very difficult, to leave; to leave the work of a lifetime, to leave one's home of so many years. It will be harder, still, to leave one's friends … if they continue to refuse to come along."

His eyes moved to Mister Damkot.

"Someone, Erik, will need to stay behind, to keep operations running," he said, with a smile. A rather sad smile, I thought.

"Perhaps; perhaps … " A sad shrug; and a long, thoughtful pause. "Still. I will have the consolation of taking my family with me, when I go; that much, at least, is arranged. And that makes me very glad."

"And will you be going back to Holland? The Netherlands, I mean — ?" from Mister Fletcher; neutrally.

It was a good question.

"Back to the Netherlands — ?" Another humorless smile, on his broad face. "Eh, I do not think that would be such a very good exchange; or so I fear. Oh, no … When we leave, I think we shall go to Canada. If I can arrange for the proper visas, the proper paperwork."

"Not the United States, sir — ?" from Lieutenant Allison.

"I think, Canada … You see, my oldest son married a very beautiful and wonderful woman, of mixed Dutch and Malay descent … Eurasian, I believe, is the term; there are great many such people, of ours, in the Netherlands East Indies. And my son and his wife have given me two grand-daughters; tiny little things, just two, and four, years of age. They look nothing at all like their grandfather; thank Providence — !"

He paused, to lean back with a deep laugh; and then, his face grew soft.

"They are beautiful creatures, with golden hair, and beautiful, dark, golden-brown skin; and they are the delight of my life. And I would do anything to keep them away from — what is coming. And I would do anything, to get them to a place where they can grow, in peace, and with love."

A long silence, at that.

It was Mister Grey, beside me, who broke it; he lifted his dew-speckled cocktail-glass — 

"To your grand-daughters, sir!" he exclaimed, cheerfully.

And of course, the rest of us followed his example; me with my iced tea. 'To your grand-daughters!' rang out, from all sides.

"Thank you, gentlemen," said Mister Nieuwenhuis; lifting his own glass, in a salute to us. "Thank you, very much — !"

And to my surprise — I saw moisture, a few unshed tears, genuine tears, in the corners of his eyes; eyes that I had always thought of as shrewd, or amused, or calculating, or all three — 

Those tears told me, that he was quite sincere, in what he had been saying. Quite sincere, among other things, on the Japanese threat to his home, and his family, and friends.

In spite of everything, I risked a quick glance towards Father. His expression was troubled.

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