With the Allies to Pekin: A Tale of the Relief of the Legations
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“It is a pity,” Sandwich laughed. “Can?t you suggest any other plan? For instance we might make a balloon, anchor it over the palace, and keep up a rain of Greek fire till we have destroyed the palace and all its occupants.”
“I am afraid that could not be done,” Rex said, “there are many reasons against it, but it is a thousand pities that we have not a good stock of iron here and a smelting–furnace.”
“What would you do with that?”
“Well we might make a big mortar, say a two–foot mortar; it would not need to be very strong, because a small charge of powder would be sufficient for our purpose. If we could but drop a half a dozen shells into the Imperial Palace, I should think the Empress would be inclined to come to terms speedily if she did not want the palace and all its contents burned.”
“That is a more feasible idea than the last,” Sandwich said gravely; “but, as you say, we haven?t got iron or a smelting–furnace, nor powder, nor skill. If we had all these things we might manage it. Try again, old man. If you keep on inventing things you may hit upon something good some day or other.”
“My opinion is,” Rex said sturdily, “that where there is a will there is a way. I have no doubt that when a certain ingenious fellow suggested making a wooden horse to capture Troy he was tremendously chaffed at first, but nevertheless you see he succeeded.”
“So he did, Rex, therefore clearly there is a chance for you.”
“I am afraid not,” Rex said, shaking his head gravely.
“Well, I would go on thinking, Bateman, if I were you. For myself I own that I see no way at all, but I do think that you would be more likely to invent a way than anyone else, considering the manner in which you rescued your cousins from the Boxers, and your success in getting in and out of this place, to say nothing of the convoying of those native Christians into the Legation. I believe that if a plan could be hit upon, you would be the fellow to do it, and to carry it out; but I am afraid that this is beyond you.”
“I am afraid so; still, I shall keep on thinking the matter over. I am a great believer in the saying that where there is a will there is a way.”
The next morning there was quite a stir. The Chinese had discovered an old iron cannon in one of the shops of Legation Street. It was an old Chinese gun, and it was a question whether it could be fired without bursting. The Russians had brought up some shell with them, but no gun, and after cleaning out the gun, they found that these shell would fit it moderately well. With some trouble the gun was mounted on the wheels of a hand carriage. Some of the charge was then removed from one of the Russian shells, and, the onlookers having retired to a safe distance, it was pushed home and fired. The result was grand; the gun turned over and over, the wheels went into fragments, but as the spectators ran up, a cheer broke from them, for they found that, contrary to all expectations, the gun had not burst.The one–pounder Italian gun was then brought up, and the Chinese gun mounted upon it. This suggested the happy idea of utilizing the Italian gun, which was without shell. A quantity of leaden candlesticks was therefore brought in by the coolies, melted down, and cast into shot, and thus the Legation received the addition of two guns to its armament. Both proved very useful. They were brought up to assist in the defence of any point seriously threatened, and evidently created a considerable impression upon the assailants.
On Sunday, July 8th, the Chinese made a heavier attack than usual. The British and French Legations and the Fu were all subject to this attack. On the spot from which they had set fire to the buildings behind the Chinese secretary?s house the enemy now planted a gun, and proceeded to shell the house and the fort on its roof. This did considerable damage, and caused much excitement, but after firing for some time they stopped in the same unaccountable way as they had done at other points. The defenders had begun to make a slide for the purpose of hauling their new gun up to the roof, but this was abandoned as soon as the Chinese fire ceased, as the gun was urgently wanted to aid the Japanese to repel a serious attack upon the Fu.
The attack there was a very sharp one, the Chinese keeping up a heavy fire of shell, and setting some more of the buildings in flames. The Japs, however, were in the end successful in driving the enemy off. The defenders of the French Legation were very hardly pressed for a time, but the attack was finally repulsed. At this point the Austrian captain, who had a fortnight before ordered the troops out of the Russian, French, German, and American Legations, was killed fighting bravely. The Germans and Americans had also to fight hard to repel the attacks made upon them.
Rex always looked forward greatly to his hour?s chat with the girls every evening. He had, early in the siege, introduced Sandwich and three or four of the other consular students to them, and one or more of these generally accompanied him on his visits, so that they made quite a merry party, as there were generally many amusing incidents of the day to be related. As a rule, however, they chatted upon general topics – life in Tientsin, the prospects of relief, and other matters. Sandwich had caused great amusement, the evening after he and Rex had discussed the latter?s projects, by gravely detailing them to the girls, who, however, at first seemed a little alarmed lest Rex should endeavour to carry them into effect.
“You need not be afraid, girls,” Rex said. “One must think of something while one is standing on sentry for hours; and I can assure you that it helped me very much through the long hours to imagine the various ways in which one might do service. I do not intend to take Sandwich into my confidence in the future. I consider that his retailing these ideas to you is nothing short of gross treachery. In future he will not hear of these matters until they have been accomplished. When I bring the Empress into the Legation, tied on my back in a sack, he will be obliged to own that there is method in my madness.”
“But really, Rex, you have no idea of carrying out any of these mad schemes?”
“I have no idea of carrying out any mad schemes, Jenny. Schemes are only considered mad when they are not carried out; when they are accomplished, everyone says how simple and easy they are. However, whether mad or simple, I have no idea of attempting to execute any of them at present. Possibly some day I may require your assistance. I do not say that I shall, because I have not at present fixed upon any plan, but when I do, I may put your devotion to the test.”
“I will do anything that I can do, Rex,” Jenny said seriously. “After your rescue of us from the yamen at Chafui I don?t think I should consider anything that you might suggest as impossible.”
“Very well. I am afraid, however, that I shan?t be able to ask for your assistance, Jenny, for my brain really doesn?t seem capable of inventing anything. I am always thinking of things when on sentry, but I have never managed to hit on a satisfactory scheme. It is horribly annoying. I came back into this place on purpose to be of some good, and yet I don?t seem to be doing any good at all.”
“Why, my dear Bateman, you are doing as much good as anyone else,” Sandwich laughed. “Nobody else performs any out–of–the–way feats, and why should you be called upon to do so? You do as much as anyone else.”
“Yes, I know all about that; but, you see, every day our position gets a little worse. The French, the Americans, and the Germans are all hard pressed; the Japanese, the Italians, and the Austrians are gradually losing ground in the Fu; and I feel that something ought to be done, if I could but find out what that something is. If we had had some inventive sort of chap up here – a man like Edison, for instance – he would have hit upon fifty plans for annoying the enemy. He would have invented special electrical machines for startling them, would have contrived substitutes for cannon, would have peppered them with pneumatic machines; in fact there is no saying what he would not have done.”
“But even an Edison would have required a workshop. We haven?t a machine of any kind, not even a simple lathe.”
“Well, he would have done without them,” Rex said positively. “It vexes me very much that no one here seems to have an inventive genius. Look at Archimedes, what wonderful dodges he invented for the defence of Syracuse!”
Sandwich and his two companions laughed loudly.
“I am afraid there is no Archimedes here, Bateman, and you must put up with the ordinary means of defence, which do not, after all, succeed so badly. We have held out for a month now, and at the end of another month we shall still be in possession of a good deal of ground; but by that time I should think relief must be at hand, even allowing for the fact that there will be troops of half a dozen nationalities in the relieving column and the consequent delays, for it is not to be expected that the different sections will work well together. Besides, it is evident, from the desultory manner in which they attack, that the Chinese are very much divided among themselves. Look at the way they get guns into good positions to annoy us, and then fail to use them. If they were to plant cannon all round us and keep up a steady fire, they could knock all the Legations to pieces in the course of a week. This must be due to disputes among the leaders, for we know that the Chinese soldiers are obedient as well as brave, and that if the guns are not used it can be from no fault on their part. I feel very confident, therefore, that even without the assistance of an Edison or an Archimedes we shall manage to hold out till relief comes.”
A day or two after this, Sandwich and Rex were chatting together in their own quarters, when the former said: “Those cannon will soon bring the whole place about our ears. They have already done terrible damage. To–day three men have been killed, and the house is little better than a ruin; it is impossible for men to stay in the upper floor.”
Rex sat silent for some little time, and then, without making a remark, got up and went to find Ah Lo.
“Ah Lo,” he said, “you know the damage those guns across the market have been doing?”
“Yes, master, very serious. Other guns not do so much harm; those very bad.”
“Well, I am thinking that I might go out and silence them.”
Ah Lo looked at Rex by the light of a lantern, which was hanging overhead, to see if he were speaking in earnest.
“Master would get killed,” he said, shaking his head.
“I don?t think so, Ah Lo. Of course there is some danger in it, but I think that it might be managed.”
“Ah Lo is ready to go with his master, if he chooses to kill himself,” the Chinaman said; “but killed he would be for sure.”
“I don?t think so,” Rex said. “Anyhow, it is worth the risk. They will have that house down, and the wall behind it, if they are allowed to go on much longer. Then there will be a fierce rush and all will be over.”
“But how will master do it?”
“Well, I shall take a hammer and a long spike with me, and if you go with me – but mind you, Ah Lo, I don?t ask you to go – “
“You must take me too.”
“Very well then, as only two guns are worrying us, you take one and I take the other. We can do it in half a minute. Of course you must manage to get me some native disguise, for we shall have to mix with the enemy to some extent, they are sure to be sitting and talking round the guns. And then we must run for it.”
“Can?t run across the market. We know that there are lots of them in the houses on this side of it.”
“No, I quite see that, Ah Lo. We must run the other way. I think I can run faster than most Chinamen, and if we get a start of a few yards, which is likely, as they will not at first realize what has been done, we ought to be able to escape and find a secure hiding–place. Then the next day we can work our way back at some point the enemy are not watching.”
“Very well, master,” Ah Lo said in a more hopeful tone; “when do you go, sir?”
“I will go to–morrow night, as we shall require some time to make our preparations. Mind, you are not to say a word to anyone of what we are going to do, for if he heard of it, it is possible that Sir Claude Macdonald would stop us.”
“Ah Lo will tell nobody, master. It is all the same to him whether he is killed outside or starved inside.”
Rex went to bed, and lay awake for some time thinking how the affair had best be managed. He came to the conclusion that the only way would be to lower himself by a rope from the end of the burnt library, then make his way round and come up to the guns from behind. It struck him that it would perhaps be advisable to tie knots in the rope as a help to them when they were climbing back again, but in the end he decided to make a rope–ladder, for he had a strong idea that neither Ah Lo nor himself would be able to swarm up a rope. When morning broke he went down to the store, which he unlocked, and after rummaging about for some time found a long rope, two hammers, and some long spike–nails. He hid the hammers and spikes in his bed, and then, retiring to an unfrequented corner of the Residency, he soon manufactured a rope–ladder, cutting some boughs to form the rungs. This ladder he concealed near the spot where he intended to get over the wall.
Later in the day Ah Lo brought him a Chinese dress.
“We take guns with us, sir?”
“No, Ah Lo, they would only be in our way when we wanted to run. We can, however, hide our swords under our clothes, and I will get a revolver and ammunition for you. I can borrow them from Mr. Sandwich, telling him that I am going on guard, and that my own weapon has somehow got out of order.”
The day passed off quietly, except that the guns across the market still continued to batter the house and to make a breach in the wall behind it. Soon after midnight Ah Lo joined his master. Rex?s disguise had been laid down by the rope–ladder, and as soon as he got there he changed and prepared for a start. They got safely over the wall and then struck off in a direction opposite to the market. For some time they saw no one in the streets, but as they got farther away they here and there met people hurrying along, evidently fearful of being within the range of the firing from the wall. When they had gone some distance they turned and made a sweep towards the market. Now they came upon groups of soldiers. Firing had ceased for the day, and would not begin again until two or three hours before daybreak. An occasional bullet whistled overhead, showing that the garrison were on the alert; for although the firing generally ended with the day, yet fierce attacks were often made during the night.
Rex and Ah Lo sauntered quietly about among the soldiers, gradually getting nearer and nearer to the spot where the guns were placed.
“I suppose we can look at them,” said Ah Lo, who with several others was standing near them.
“Certainly you can,” the man said. “They are doing good work. In another couple of days we shall have the wall down, and then we shall finish off with the white devils.”
“That is good,” Ah Lo said.
“They have been here too long as it is, and ought to be cleared off without delay. When we have got rid of the last of them we shall be our own masters again. They are always meddling in our affairs, just as if they were our masters instead of only living here by permission of the Empress. They even venture to tell us what we should do, and their bishops get made mandarins, and then, if their people commit crimes, they will not have them punished. We have put up with it too long; now we are going to make an end of it once and for all.”
“Quite right!” Ah Lo said, as he lounged up to the gun, for at that? moment Rex moved towards the other. While they pretended to be examining the guns, they quietly inserted the points of the spikes into the touch–holes. Then Rex looked round. The moment seemed favourable. Eight or ten soldiers were standing close to them, talking over the fighting of the day, and the prospect of making a breach in the morning. Farther back other soldiers were laughing, talking, and cooking their rice. He waited a minute, and then signalled to Ah Lo. On the instant two heavy hammers fell on the heads of the spikes. With three quick strokes they drove them up to the head in the touch–holes, then, throwing down the hammers, they started off at full speed.
The soldiers shouted as they saw the spikes being driven in, but the strikers had gone some thirty or forty yards before they had sufficiently recovered from their surprise to think of pursuit. Rex and Ah Lo increased their lead to fifty yards before their pursuers had fairly got up their pace. They turned down the first lane they came to and then down another. Glancing back, Rex saw that so far they were holding their own, except that two Boxers, swifter than the rest, were some yards ahead of the main body of their pursuers. The Chinamen, as they ran, set up a perpetual shouting, which did not improve their speed.
“We must get rid of these two men,” said Rex, speaking for the first time since they started. “Slacken your speed a little and let them come up to us, then suddenly turn round upon them.”
“All right, sir!” Ah Lo said.
“I shall use my revolver, Ah Lo, you can use either your revolver or your sword, whichever you like.”
A minute later the two foremost of the pursuers came rushing upon them, but the sudden pause of the fugitives had left them no time to draw their swords. Rex?s revolver cracked out, laying one of them low, and Ah Lo, using his sword, struck the other with such force that he nearly decapitated him. There was a shout of rage from the party behind. Rex and his companion, needless to say, did not stop to listen, but at once turned and continued their flight. They ran down till they were brought up suddenly at the end of a lane where a house rose straight in front of them. It was too late to retrace their steps.
“What is to be done, master?” Ah Lo asked.
“We must break in the door, if it is not open.”
The first door they tried, however, was unfastened. They entered, shot the bolt to, and ran to the back of the house. They were disappointed, however, for there was no opening through which they could escape. Without wasting time they turned and ran upstairs to a terrace on the top of the house. Here a number of clothes flapped in the wind; it was evidently the family drying–ground.
“We can defend this ladder for a bit, Ah Lo, but they must beat us in the end. Let us scramble up to the other end of the street.”
Looking down they saw that the lane was now full of soldiers, some of whom carried lanterns. It was no easy matter getting along on the roofs, as the houses were irregular in height. Sometimes they had to jump down ten or twelve feet, at others to help each other up walls of equal height. They were some distance along when they heard a sudden shout, and knew that their pursuers had broken down the door of the house and had entered, and another that told that the enemy had gained the roof and found that it was deserted. In a short time lanterns appeared on the roofs of some of the houses, but the fugitives were already within a house or two of the end of the lane.
“The streets are full of people,” Rex said, peering over. “We can?t get down here. We must jump upon the house behind; it is four or five feet lower than this, so we shall have no difficulty.”
Without hesitation he stood upon the parapet behind and leapt. Ah Lo followed his example.
“Now,” said Rex, “let us run down. The house will probably be empty, as the family is sure to run out to see what the row is about.”
There were, indeed, some women standing in the lower room, and these gave a cry of astonishment when the two fugitives rushed past them through the open door and joined the people who were hurrying up to the other end of the lane. Now that they were mixed up in the crowd, Rex felt that there was little fear of being detected. Only the soldier they had been talking to would know their faces, and as he had been among the first to take up the pursuit he must now be down at the farther end of the next lane, or more probably on the roof of the house they had entered. As the crowd was already very dense, he could not possibly make his way back.
Suddenly flames broke out from one of the houses they had crossed, and soon it was seen that other houses were on fire also. A cry of dismay broke from the Chinese standing near. They were accustomed to high–handed proceedings, for many houses had been burnt by the Boxers in the pursuit of plunder or in their indignation at failing to find any. They had now evidently fired the houses as the easiest way of destroying the fugitives, who had shown that they would sell their lives dearly.
Gradually Rex and Ah Lo withdrew themselves to the edge of the excited crowd. Many of the people were already moving off to carry their goods from the houses in the adjoining lanes, for the wind was blowing strong, and there was no saying how far the conflagration would spread, as the houses were but flimsy erections, being composed chiefly of bamboo and mud, which would catch like tinder when attacked by the flame. They moved away from the scene gradually, and without any appearance of haste. The alarm had evidently spread some distance, for they met a fire–brigade of men carrying tubs of water slung on poles hurrying towards the spot. People were standing at their doors watching the blaze, and calculating whether, if it spread, it would come their way.
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