With the Allies to Pekin: A Tale of the Relief of the Legations
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“I quite see that.”
“Of course they are Christians, and people can know Christians directly by their dress and other things, though it is not so much by the dress as by something in their manner. Everyone can tell a Christian.”
“Well I must say I don?t see anything different between the people working here and those we meet everywhere else. I will take your word for it, however, and if there is anything different they must do their best to change it. It seems to me that if we get them out we must hide them in some empty house, near one of the gates if possible, so that it will be handy for the wall. There are not likely to be guards on the wall at the other side of the town, and we might at night get them up there and lower them into the ditch; I believe at most places there is no water in it. Then we must get them round this side and haul them up that part of the wall we hold, and where we could, of course, make our way out.”
“It doesn?t seem to me that there is anything very difficult about it,” said Ah Lo. “Of course we should put on Boxer clothes. The other day we got hold of lots of the cord they wear. Several Boxers have fallen near the north bridge, and lie there still; so we can take their coats. We can carry swords and pistols, but no rifles. If we should be discovered, the swords, of course, would be no good; we only want them to make us look like Boxers. Well, I don?t see why we shouldn?t be able to do it. Of course there is some risk in it, but if we could manage in the way you say, it ought not to be very great. Of course we must take with us the man who brought the news in, to show us the place, and we may as well get a Boxer coat and sword for him too. In fact if we can get half a dozen we will take them; the more we can dress as Boxers the better.”
Rex went to his room and wrote some letters, which he gave to Sandwich when they met at six o?clock.
“Look here, Sandwich,” he said, “I want you to take care of these letters. I have heard of a party who are shut up in a cellar in the city. There are twelve of them, I believe, and they have exhausted their provisions, and must come out if not relieved in the course of a day or so. I mean to go out and try to bring them in here.”
“Eh? what? are you out of your mind, Bateman?”
“No, I don?t think there is much risk in it. I shall get the Americans to let me down over the part of the wall they hold, and of course I myself and Ah Lo, who will go with me, will dress in Boxer clothes. I shall go round the wall and get in again by one of the gates at the other end. I don?t suppose any guard will be posted there. At any rate if there is a guard they won?t interfere with me. Then I shall go and get these people out, and shall either let them down over the wall at once, or hide them till to–morrow night in some empty house close to it; all will depend on the time. It really seems a very simple thing.”
“It may seem a very simple thing, Bateman, but it strikes me as being a mightily dangerous one.Still, if I spoke Chinese as you do, I would volunteer to go with you.”
“It would be of no advantage, Sandwich. If we are detected it will make no difference whether there are twelve of us or a hundred and twenty; we should certainly be killed. It is simply a question of being found out, and therefore the fewer of us there are the better. Of course if only a solitary man detected us, we should cut him down without any hesitation, but at that time of night it is not likely that there will be anyone about to see us. They are so busy all day that I fancy all who are not engaged in worrying us at night would be glad enough to sleep. A good many dead Boxers are lying near the north gate, and I was thinking of sending my man to get the clothes of some of them. Now I think of it I remember that the Americans and Germans, when they captured the wall yesterday, threw the bodies of the men that they had killed over the parapet into the moat, so we can get the things when we go out, without running any risk.
“I should not have said anything about this to you, only I have written letters to my cousins and my father and mother, so that you can hand the one to the girls in two or three days if I do not get back, and send the other down to my father after you are relieved. I do it as a measure of precaution, but I really do not think that there is any great chance of my coming to grief. Of course if the worst comes to the worst, and we are surprised, I shall bolt for it with Ah Lo. I am ready to run some risk to get these poor people out, but I don?t mean to throw away my life, and, as I say, shall make a bolt for it if we are found out. In those deserted streets, with no end of empty houses, I fancy we could soon throw them off our scent, and should then be able to find our way back again quietly to the foot of the walls.”
“Well, I hope you will do so, Bateman. I tell you fairly that I think you are running a very foolish risk. Still, it is a noble thing to attempt.”
“Oh, bosh!” said Rex, “it seems to me a very simple affair, and it is certainly well worth running certain risks to save the lives of those poor people.”
“When do you start?”
“As soon as it gets dark enough for us to move along near the wall without being seen. I want to go as soon as I can, because I should like to pass out through the gate of the China town before my doing so would excite any attention. I don?t think it is likely that they will have guards there. If we find that there are, and I see that they are watchful, I will hide up till the morning, when people are sure to go out to cultivate the fields.”
Rex now found Ah Lo and told him that he need not go out to get the Boxer clothes as there were plenty to be had in the moat outside the wall.
“That will certainly be better, master.”
As it was getting dusk they started with the Chinaman who had brought in the report, made their way through the Russian Legation into the American, then climbed the wall. Rex was well known to the officer who commanded the party there.
“Good–evening, Mr. Bateman!” the officer said, “have you any message for us?”
“No, I am going out on my own account. This Chinaman with me is one of a party who have been hidden in a cellar since the massacre. They knew nothing of what had been going on, and he came to ask if a party would go out to their assistance. That, of course, is impossible, but it seems to me that there will be no difficulty in me and my man managing it. We have got ropes for letting ourselves down from the wall here, and at the other side of the town, where the fugitives are hidden. I hope to arrive at the foot of the wall here not later than to–morrow night.”
“It seems a very wild scheme, Bateman.”
“I don?t think so. When we get down to the wall we are going to dress up in the clothes of those Boxers you threw over after your recent fight, and I shall take four or five extra suits for the use of the fugitives. In that way we are likely to pass along without being questioned. The streets will probably be nearly deserted by eleven or twelve o?clock, and if we have luck we shall be able to get them over the wall without much loss of time. If there is no guard at the gate of the China wall we may possibly be here before daylight to–morrow morning.”
“Well, I wish you luck, but I can?t help thinking that you are acting very rashly.”
“You must remember that I and my man have already travelled some hundred miles in disguise, and by this means have already got in here twice, and out of Tientsin once. I really don?t see that there is any appreciable risk in the thing whatever. If it is after daylight when we arrive here, you and your men will be able to keep the people in the Chinese town from attacking us while we are coming up.”
“I think we can promise to do that,” the officer said; “we never see a soul pass along this road.”
“Very well, we shall be here in an hour?s time.”
Rex went to the storekeeper and obtained from him a length of rope sufficient for climbing the wall, and then with Ah Lo and the Chinaman he set out. It was dark when they got to the wall again, and they were without delay lowered down one after the other by the American marines.
“We shall keep a sharp look–out for you towards morning,” the officer said; “do you want to take this rope away with you?”
“No, I have another length with me.”
Their first step was to strip the garments from nine of the dead Boxers. Three of these they put on, and the rest they fastened in a bundle, which the Chinaman took. For a quarter of a mile they followed the road by the moat, and then turned into the town. They saw but few lights, and went without attracting any observation through the gate. As Rex had expected, this was unguarded. They crossed the moat beyond it, and then walked on quickly. An hour?s brisk walking took them to the gate in the Tartar wall. This was open and they passed through unquestioned. Then they dived into a lane, and in a quarter of an hour reached a space covered with ruins. Through these the Chinaman led the way, and presently stopped by the side of a fallen wall.
“This is the place,” he said, and, advancing, he cleared away some bricks, and suddenly disappeared into the bowels of the earth.
“It is I,” he said, “and a white officer and his servant have come out to rescue you.”
An exclamation of thankfulness followed his words, and Rex descended with Ah Lo at his heels. Striking a light, he saw seven men and five women. The people gave a cry of terror as they saw the Boxer garments.
“Do not be afraid,” Rex said, “these are only disguises. We have brought some more with us, which the men must put on.”
He struck match after match while this was being done.
“Now,” he said, “you women must make some little changes in your dress, so as to resemble ordinary native women, and then we will sally out.”
Five minutes later they started. They had gone but fifty yards beyond the burnt area when three men came from a house and accosted them.
“Who are you?” they said.
“We are your brethren,” Ah Lo answered.
“Give us the sign, that we may know you are Boxers,” one of the men said.
“Give us the sign,” Ah Lo replied.
“We called for it first,” the man said.
“Very well, this is the only sign that you will get from us,” and Ah Lo struck him a tremendous blow with his sword.
Rex cut down another, and the third took to his heels, shouting.
“This way,” the Chinaman said, running down a narrow alley. “We can get out at the other end, where there is a net–work of lanes.”
They hurried at full speed down the lane, then turned again, and in five minutes were a quarter of a mile from the scene of the fray.
“Now,” Rex said, “let us make for the wall. That man may have given the alarm, and it will not be safe to try the gate.”
They kept on until the wall rose before them, then they followed it till they came to steps leading to the top. When they reached the summit, Ah Lo unwound a rope from his waist.
“Now,” he said to one of the men, “you go down first. If you find that the water is too deep to wade across, stop where you are.”
One by one the men and women were lowered down by Ah Lo, and Rex was the last to descend. Just as he reached the water, steps were heard running along the wall.
“Keep quiet,” Rex said, “let them go by before we try to cross. They won?t notice the rope in the dark.”
Some fifty men ran along the top of the wall, leaving one here and there to watch. One was halted immediately above Rex and his companions.
“Now,” Rex asked in a whisper, “how many of you can swim?”
Three of the men said they could do so.
“Very well,” said Rex, “we must carry across those who cannot; the women first. Swim as noiselessly as you can; that fellow above will hear the least noise.”
The first party crossed without noise, but as the second lot were being taken over one of the Chinamen made a splash. There was an immediate shout from above, and a man leaning over the parapet fired a musket. The swimmers and their burdens, however, reached the other side of the moat without mishap.
“It will be five minutes before they gather again here,” said Rex, “and then they will have to get to the gate, which must take them nearly ten minutes. Let us get well out into the country, and then make for the China town. Let each man help a woman along.”
Fortunately all the women had, on becoming Christians, given up the absurd practice of deforming their feet, and were now able to walk with comparative freedom. Nevertheless, they would have made but slow progress but for the assistance of the men. After a time they changed their course, but, hearing a number of men running and shouting, they took refuge in some high grain until they had passed. When their pursuers were well out of sight and hearing, they continued till they reached the gate in the Chinese wall. Here they waited for a quarter of an hour, and then Ah Lo approached the gate.
“I see no guard has been placed here since we passed out, so we can enter without fear.”
Passing through, they turned at once to the right, and kept without interruption along the bank of the canal at the foot of the Tartar wall. The women were, for the most part, drooping now. They had been on short rations for many days, and were no doubt worn out by anxiety and terror. Progress, therefore, became much slower and more difficult, but luckily there was no further alarm, and before dawn they succeeded in reaching that part of the wall held by the Americans.
“We are here, Captain,” Rex called. “We have got them all. Please let down the rope and haul them up.”
“Bravo!” the officer said. “I hardly expected to see you again. We will soon have them all up.”
Half a minute later the rope fell beside them, and one by one the women were hoisted to the top of the wall. The men were next taken up, and finally Ah Lo and Rex.
“So you got through safely,” the officer said, shaking Rex by the hand. “Did you meet with any trouble?”
“We were only stopped by three Boxers, and as we could not give their pass–word they tried to arrest us. My man cut down one, and I polished off another, but the third bolted and gave the alarm. We had no difficulty, however, in eluding them, and making our way to the wall. The fellows came along above us, and, as we had to carry the women over the moat, they heard us. But we got well away before they could come out through the gate, and we hid up till they had passed us in the dark. We had no difficulty in coming through the Chinese town.”
“Well, I congratulate you upon your exploit, which has been the means of saving twelve of these poor beggars.”
“Now I shall be going on at once,” Rex said. “We are all drenched to the skin, and though we have dried a bit on the way, I for one shall be glad to get into fresh clothes. I will thank you to give me those I left here before starting. I must put them on now, otherwise I should never get through the Russian Legation.”
He rapidly changed his clothes, and then they went with his companions down the steps from the wall, passed through the American Legation, and entered that of the Russians. Here the sentry stopped Rex, and refused to let him pass until an officer came out with a lantern and questioned him. This officer, however, recognized Rex at once, and allowed him and his party to proceed. Rex then went on through the houses that separated the Legation from the British quarters. Here they were again questioned by two marines, but having satisfied these men, they entered the British Legation.
“Now you are safe,” Rex said to his friends. “You must lie down and sleep here to–night. To–morrow I will see that you have clothes and rations.”
The Chinese had scarcely spoken a word since they started, but now, as with one accord, they fell on their knees and showered blessings and thanks upon Rex for saving them from a terrible death.
“It is all right,” he said. “I am very pleased to have been the means of saving you and myself. Thank God that I have been able to do so! I had expected to meet with many difficulties, but everything has turned out well. Now I must go, but I will see that you get an allowance of food in the morning.”
Then he went over to his quarters. Sandwich and two or three of his companions were still sitting up, and they gave a shout of satisfaction as they saw Rex enter.
“I am heartily glad to see you back, Bateman,” one of them said. “You found it, of course, impossible, and have had to give it up. I felt sure that you would have to do so, and we waited up to see you.”
“What time is it now?” asked Rex.
“About one o?clock.”
“Well, I am back sooner than I expected, and am happy to say that I have succeeded without any difficulty. On the way back with the refugees we had one encounter, and had to kill a couple of Boxers. The rest was easy.”
“You don?t say so, Bateman! Well, I congratulate you most heartily. You have indeed done a good night?s work; tell us all about it.”
Rex gave them a short account of his adventure.
“I thought,” he said, “that there would be no great difficulty about it, and I am sorry that it was not accomplished without bloodshed, but we could not help ourselves in that respect. I am glad indeed that I brought the poor creatures in. The women were desperately done up by the time we got within the lines, which is not to be wondered at after all they had gone through. Well, I will lie down now, for I have had a very long day, and I must be up early to–morrow to see that these people get rations, for I fancy they are pretty nearly starved.”
In a few minutes all were asleep. Rex was up before six o?clock in the morning, and at once ran down to the gentleman whose duty it was to see to the provisioning of the native Christians.
“I want you to put down thirteen more names,” he said.
“How is that, Mr. Bateman?”
“One of a party came in yesterday afternoon, and told me that there were twelve of them in hiding in a cellar near the burnt area, so I went out with my man last night and brought them in.”
“You did, Mr. Bateman? You astonish me! And you did it without opposition?”
“Without any opposition to speak of, sir. We had to kill a couple of Boxers, and we were pursued hotly. After we got over the wall one of the men made a splash in the water, and the sentry heard it. But, with those two slight exceptions, everything went off well.”
“But how on earth did you get in here?”
“We got over the wall close by the Americans, and were hauled up by them on our return.”
“Well, sir, you must at once report what you have done.”
“Oh, I would rather say nothing about it at all!” Rex said. “I shall only be questioned about it, and have all sorts of bother.”
“Nevertheless it must be reported, Mr. Bateman. I shall have to account for the issue of thirteen more rations than before, and shall have to explain in my report that these are people who were brought in by you during the night.”
“Well, I only hope that nobody will take the trouble to read your report, sir. I hate being talked about, and as likely as not I should be blown up for going out without orders.”
“Perhaps something will be said about that, Mr. Bateman, but certainly you will get more praise than blame.”
Rex shrugged his shoulders.
“I would much rather get neither, sir. The affair was a very simple and straightforward one, and there is no occasion that I can see for anything to be said about it one way or another.”
Nevertheless, to his disgust, he saw, an hour later, a notice stuck up among those in the tower, that Mr. Bateman, with his man, had gone out and succeeded in bringing in thirteen native Christians from a hiding–place among the ruins.