The Admiral's Wife
Forbidden Love and Scandal in Hong Kong
M. K. Tod
The lives of two women living in Hong Kong more than a century apart are unexpectedly linked by forbidden love and financial scandal.
In 2016, Patricia Findlay leaves a high-powered career to move to Hong Kong, where she hopes to rekindle the bonds of family and embrace the city of her ancestors. Instead, she is overwhelmed by feelings of displacement and depression. To make matters worse, her father, CEO of the family bank, insists that Patricia’s duty is to produce an heir, even though she has suffered three miscarriages.
In 1912, when Isabel Taylor moves to Hong Kong with her husband, Henry, and their young daughter, she struggles to find her place in such a different world and to meet the demands of being the admiral’s wife. At a reception hosted by the governor of Hong Kong, she meets Li Tao-Kai, an influential member of the Chinese community and a man she met a decade earlier when he was a student at Cambridge.
As the story unfolds, each woman must consider where her loyalties lie and what she is prepared to risk for love.
Brief sex scenes
“Family secrets and personal ambitions, east and west, collide in this compelling, deeply moving novel." -- Weina Dai Randel, award-winning author of THE LAST ROSE OF SHANGHAI
“Irresistible and absorbing.” Janie Chang, bestselling author of THE LIBRARY OF LEGENDS
April 1912 – Isabel Taylor clutched her straw hat in one hand and her daughter Georgiana’s hand in the other, as the China Seas cleared the tip of an outlying island and Hong Kong Harbor came into view.
“Look at all the little boats, Mummy,” Georgiana said. She pointed at a jumble of vessels the size of large rowboats anchored in long columns perpendicular to the quay.
“I see them, sweetheart,” Isabel said. “Do you remember that they’re called sampans? People use them for fishing. But I had no idea there would be so many.”
At least fifty passengers stood at the bow rail watching the city come into view. Isabel smiled at the line of hats her female shipmates wore: boater hats, wide-brimmed hats, turban-style hats, hats with feathers, hats with elaborate silk flowers. In addition, a number of women held colorful parasols edged with frills to shade their faces from the hot sun. Some of the women were animated; others looked anxious, even wary.
“It’s mountainous,” a woman dressed in blue said to no one in particular. “I didn’t expect mountains.”
Isabel hadn’t expected mountains either yet there they were, craggy peaks that embraced the city of Victoria, where she and her husband and daughter had come to live. Isabel was struck by the sudden reality that this foreign place would be her home—a place of strange customs and exotic scenery, of unusual food and dramatically different climate, and of people who looked nothing like her.
When Henry had explained his new position as Commander-in-Chief of the China Fleet, Isabel had experienced a wave of excitement. The Far East had fascinated her since she was a young girl learning about the British Empire: India, Burma, Ceylon, Malaya, Borneo, Singapore, Hong Kong. She poured over pictures her father showed her and read stories of daring exploits and dangerous journeys in these far-away worlds.
In an unprecedented move, her father, a former member of parliament representing Cambridge University, had invited several foreign students to dinner. During the lengthy meal, Isabel had spoken to a student from Burma who’d been seated on her left and a student from Hong Kong on her right. Both were polite, well-spoken, and engaging, and she wondered now whether she might meet the man from Hong Kong once more.
Georgiana tugged at Isabel’s skirt. “Will we get off soon, Mummy?”
Isabel smoothed Georgiana’s blond curls. “Yes, Georgie. Very soon.” She often called her daughter Georgie. Georgiana seemed too grand a name for a little four-year-old girl.
“But where’s Papa? Isn’t he coming with us?”
“Of course, he is. I’m sure your father is talking with Captain Davidson,” she replied.
Isabel crouched down, taking care not to wrinkle the white muslin jacket and long white skirt she’d put on that morning in anticipation of finally reaching their destination. White was impractical but it suited her fair skin and auburn hair, and she was keen to make a good impression. “The captain will have wanted Papa’s advice about coming into port.”
When they’d gone out on deck an hour earlier, Isabel had been unable to find Henry. Not an unusual occurrence. The ship’s bridge was the most likely place Henry would be right now. Duty and family were often at odds for her husband. For the most part, duty took precedence.
“I’m glad we’re here, Mummy. Will my toys be here too?”
After reassuring her daughter, Isabel continued to watch as they navigated through a harbor crowded with ships of every size and purpose: warships, barges, tugboats, ocean steamers, large sailing vessels, hundreds of seagoing junks, and what seemed like a small city of sampans bobbing up and down along every section of the shore. A minute later, a green ferry with white trim passed so close to the China Seas that she could see the faces of its passengers standing beneath a dirty canvas canopy.
Isabel shielded her eyes from the glare. Four- and five-story buildings lined the waterfront, while piers jutted from the quay like long limbs. Rising up the slopes, tier over tier, were hundreds of closely built houses interspersed with dense foliage. Dotting the hillside beyond the city were apartment buildings and what looked like spacious homes. Smoke belched from factories in the distance. As the ship drew closer, she noticed brightly colored awnings and a church spire that reminded her of St. Mary’s in Islington.
“Here you are, Mrs. Taylor,” Muriel Fletcher said. “I’ve finished the packing. Can I help with Georgiana in any way?”
“Georgie’s fine with me,” Isabel said to the governess. “But stay with us and watch the ship dock, Muriel. What do you think of your first glimpse of Hong Kong?”
“It’s astonishing, Mrs. Taylor. I’m so fortunate you asked me to come along.”
The ship made a wide turn as it prepared to dock, exposing a low-lying area filled with ramshackle buildings that looked like they’d blow away in a strong wind. This was Kowloon, located on the mainland to the north of Hong Kong Island. The turn complete, Isabel noticed the Union Jack flying proudly atop what might be a government building and a line of palm trees waving in the breeze. The quay teemed with people and waiting vehicles—everything from carriages and lorries to rickshaws and motorcars.
Slowly the China Seas drew alongside a concrete pier, where men shouted in a language unlike any other Isabel had ever heard while fastening thick ropes tossed by the ship’s crew. After four long weeks, they had finally arrived.
“There you are,” Henry said, his voice tinged with impatience. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you, Isabel. Why are you and Georgiana standing here?”
Georgiana’s enthusiastic chatter forestalled the tart reply that sprang to Isabel’s mind. She had imagined the voyage as an opportunity to relax with her husband and young daughter away from the demanding naval duties that had dominated life in London. Instead, Henry had spent hours every day with Captain Davidson, discussing seafaring conditions in the waters around Hong Kong and the challenges of the territory her husband would command.
To make matters worse, because of Henry’s new position as commander-in-chief of the China Fleet, they were assigned to the captain’s table at dinner, which often entailed long discussions of naval matters and piracy, and debates over the significance of Germany’s military buildup. Weeks at sea had done nothing to improve the mood between them—quite the contrary, in fact.
Isabel watched Henry hoist Georgiana onto his hip and point to various places on shore. At least he’s a good father and he loves Georgiana, she conceded to herself.
“We’ll wait for the others to disembark,” Henry said. “The commodore sent word there’s to be a welcome ceremony. Afterwards, they’ve arranged for someone to take you, Georgiana, and Miss Fletcher to temporary quarters while I do an inspection and meet the senior officers.” He checked his watch. “I may not be able to join you for dinner.”
When Isabel was tired, she spoke her mind. “Our first dinner in Hong Kong, and you’re expected to be elsewhere?”
Henry sniffed, then twitched his nose. “Please don’t fuss, Isabel. You know I dislike it when you fuss. As I’m taking up new duties, there are certain expectations. I can’t let people think I’m ruled by my wife’s preferences, now can I?”
Perhaps he meant the statement as a little joke, but she wasn’t in the mood for humor. “There’s no danger of them thinking that, Henry. No danger at all. But we’ll manage without you. Join us as soon as you can.” Isabel took Georgiana’s hand. “Come with Mummy, poppet. I’m sure Miss Fletcher has all your things ready. We’re going on an adventure.”
I won’t be able to count on Henry, Isabel thought, as she supervised the loading of their trunks and other cases into a delivery van. I’ll have to make my way here on my own.
The prospect was daunting. She should have known her husband would throw himself into his new responsibilities without worrying about her or their daughter. He would assume that Isabel could manage and be puzzled if she found their new circumstances difficult. If she complained, he would say, “You’ve just got to get on with it.”
Isabel resolved to do just that.
M.K. (Mary) Tod’s interest in historical fiction began as a teenager immersed in the stories of Rosemary Sutcliff, Jean Plaidy, and Georgette Heyer. In 2004, her husband’s career took them to Hong Kong where, with no job and few prospects, Mary began what became Unravelled, her first novel. The Admiral’s Wife is her fifth novel.
Mary’s award-winning blog, www.awriterofhistory.com, focuses on reading and writing historical fiction. She’s an active member of the historical fiction community and has conducted five unique reader surveys on topics from readers’ habits and preferences to favorite historical fiction authors. Mary is happily married to her high-school sweetheart. They have two adult children and two delightful grandsons.