With the Allies to Pekin: A Tale of the Relief of the Legations
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“Well, Ah Lo,” Rex said, “you see it has not been a very dangerous business after all, and if those two soldiers we killed had not been so fast we might have got away without being pressed at all.”
“It was very unfortunate for them,” Ah Lo said quietly, “and I don?t suppose they knew what they were running for. Very few of them could have known that we had spiked the guns. It was lucky that those two houses were so close to each other that we were able to leap across, otherwise they might have had us.”
“I don?t think they would, even in that case, Ah Lo. We might really have gone down through that last house and joined the crowd there.”
“We might, master, but I don?t think we could. Everyone had run to the streets by that time, and doubtless many were standing at their doors, and would have noticed two strange men running behind them.”
“At any rate we are well out of it, Ah Lo. We can now walk quietly round and go up our ladder; but mind you do not say a word to anyone about this affair.”
“Why not, master?” Ah Lo asked in surprise.
“For two or three reasons. In the first place, the governor might blame us for undertaking a business of that sort without asking permission. You see, although I did not think so at the time, any Chinaman coming along there and seeing that ladder might have gone and reported the fact, and by its means a large number of the enemy might have crossed the wall before they were discovered, and the safety of the garrison would then have been endangered. That is one reason. The next is, that I don?t want everyone to be making a fuss now that it is over. Some might blame me for my recklessness, while others might pat me on the back because of my success. That is a thing that I should specially hate. We did not do it for praise, but to be of service to the garrison. For these reasons I want you to hold your tongue, and not whisper a word to anyone. We are quite content that we have rendered good service to the Legation, saved many lives, and put the garrison in a position to repair damages unmolested. That ought to be satisfaction enough for anyone.”
“Very good, master; Ah Lo will keep his mouth shut if master wishes it. He is not a talker, and now that he knows what master wishes he will do it.”
Half an hour?s walking brought them to the foot of the ladder, and having climbed over the wall they coiled up the rope again, and Rex took it to the magazine and put it where he had found it. Then, satisfied that he had done a good piece of work, he went and lay down until it was his turn to go on sentry.
The next morning there was considerable surprise when it was found that the two troublesome guns were silent. It was some time before there was any thought of making good the damage, but as the hours went by, and there was still no firing, a strong body of men was put on to repair the defences as fast as possible.
Many were the surmises and conjectures circulated through the Residency as to the cause of the change.Some said that the Peace party had again got the upper hand, and that fresh terms had been offered. Others asserted that fresh cannon had been planted round the Residency, and that the others were to hold their fire till these were ready for action, when an overwhelming fire would be poured in. Some again were of opinion that the soldiers had mutinied on account of the heavy losses they had sustained without making any appreciable progress, while a few maintained that the relieving army must be near at hand, and that every fighting–man had been sent out to oppose them. The next morning Sandwich came into the room where Rex was eating his breakfast after being relieved from guard.
“You know, Rex,” he said excitedly, “about those two guns being silenced.”
“Yes. I suppose everyone in the Residency knows about it,” Rex replied quietly.
“I have just heard a report that your servant asserts that it was your doing.”
Rex jumped up with an angry exclamation.
“The rascal! I will break every bone in his body. He promised me faithfully that not a word about it should pass his lips.”
“Then it is really true?” Sandwich said in surprise.
“True! Yes, but I was particularly anxious that it should not be known, so that I should escape the fuss that people are always ready to make about every little thing. I will go out and talk to Master Ah Lo. I can?t think how he can have spoken about it after his promises to me, for he has always proved himself a most faithful fellow. I can?t believe he did it to get a reward, but I don?t see any other motive that he can have had.”
So saying he hurried out of the room, followed by Sandwich, who in vain attempted to get some of the particulars from him. He found Ah Lo standing with the Provost Marshal?s hand on his shoulder.
“Your servant has been making a row,” the latter said, “and thrashing a servant of the Belgian embassy.”
“Yes, sir, and I would thrash him again,” Ah Lo blurted out.
“What has he done?” Rex asked, calming down instantly on seeing his man in this predicament.
“It was like this, sir. The Belgian man came up to three or four of us who were standing together, and he said, ?Do you know who did it?? So we all said ?No,? and I said it as loud as any of them. Then he said ?I did.? We all stood astonished, one as much as the other; and he went on: ?I crept out of the Russian Legation and made my way through the market and got up to the guns and silenced them!? Then, sir, I was furious, and I shouted, ?You are a liar! my master did it,? and I seized him by the throat and beat him. I know I was wrong, master, to say anything about you, but my rage was too great for me to think what I was saying. Then others ran in, and of course the Provost Marshal came, and having once said it, of course I repeated it.”
“You were wrong, Ah Lo, but at the same time I can make allowances for your indignation. Now that the thing has begun it must be gone through with. Provost, will you take this man before Sir Claude Macdonald? We will go too, and I think between us we will get at the truth of the matter.”
“I am ready,” the Belgian said, “you both wish to win my honour and reward from me, after my risking my life. Sir Claude Macdonald will soon see which story is true.”
“I have no doubt he will,” Rex said. “We had better go at once, Provost, or we shall have the whole of the Legation here,” for a crowd was rapidly gathering round them.
When they reached the ambassador?s quarters the Provost went in first to acquaint him with the cause of the dispute, and then the others entered. Sir Claude acknowledged Rex?s salute, and then, turning to the Belgian, said: “As you seem to have made the first claim to this honour, I shall be obliged if you will give me the account of how you managed it.”
“I went out through the back of the Russian embassy,” the man said; “there is a little tower close to the corner.”
“But that is known to be full of Chinese.”
“It was full,” the man said, “but they were all asleep. Then I passed through the market–place unobserved.”
“How was that?” Sir Claude asked. “Only the night before we made a sortie, and found the place held in great force.”
“They must all have gone out,” the man said; “I saw none of them. Then, creeping very cautiously, I got to the guns,” he continued. “The soldiers there were also asleep, and I silenced the guns without difficulty.”
“And how did you do that?” Sir Claude asked.
“I,” the man hesitated, “poured some water into the touch–holes from the pitcher I had brought with me. Then I returned the way that I had come.”
Sir Claude waved his hand with a gesture of contempt.
“Water could only have silenced the guns for five minutes,” he said. “You know of no better way of silencing them?”
The man hesitated.
“I might have thrown them off the carriage,” he said, “but I was afraid of doing this, as it might have awakened the men.”
“I should think it would,” Sir Claude said quietly, “and if you had had the strength of ten men you could not have got them over. Mr. Bateman, will you kindly give me your account of the affair?”
“I am sorry, sir, to give any account at all, for I had particularly ordered my servant not to open his lips on the subject. Enraged at this fellow?s preposterous claim, however, he lost his temper and blurted out the truth. It was a very simple affair, sir, though not so simple, I own, as this gentleman?s exploit, for I did not find the whole of the Chinese army asleep.” He then related the steps they had taken, their pursuit and escape.
“You agree in every particular with what your master has said?” Sir Claude asked Ah Lo.
“He tell it all right; just so, that just how it happen.”
“Provost Marshal,” Sir Claude said quietly, “take that man out and give him three dozen well laid on for his infamous attempt to gain credit and reward at the expense of others.”
The Provost bowed and left the room with his prisoner, who began to howl for mercy.
“Now, Mr. Bateman,” Sir Claude said, turning to Rex, “I hardly know whether to praise or blame you. This is the third dangerous expedition you have made on your own account, and, like the others, it has been successful. Still, as I told you on the last occasion, while shut up here, you, although a civilian, are subject to military rule, and it is strictly forbidden for anyone to leave the circle of the defences without permission. For doing this I cannot but speak severely. On the other hand, the advantages which have been attained by your silencing those guns are quite inestimable. Their fire menaced our defences most seriously, and if it had continued many hours longer we should have been exposed to a desperate attack by that half–frenzied mob. That attack we might have repulsed or we might not, but assuredly it would have taxed our strength to the utmost, and even if the first had been unsuccessful, the second might not have been. I thank you, sir, in the name of the whole of the garrison, foreign as well as British, for the service you have rendered us. Already the defences have been so far repaired as to enable us to withstand any sudden attack; very soon they will be still stronger. If we succeed in winning our deliverance and holding out till the relieving column arrives it will be to no small extent due to your courage and pluck. It must add considerably to your pleasure to know that your cousins are among those who will benefit by your bravery.”
“I am greatly pleased and honoured by your approval, sir,” Rex said, “but I would very much rather that the affair had not been known at all. I carried it out assuredly without any wish of gaining credit, but simply for the good of the garrison, and I should very greatly have preferred escaping the talk and congratulation that I shall now have to submit to.”
Sir Claude smiled.
“My dear lad,” he said, “it is only right that the great deeds men do should be known, if only as an example to others. If we all shrank from danger there would be few great deeds. You know the old saying, ?to the victor is the wreath,? and it is only right that it should be so. It is one thing to glorify yourself and another to be glorified by others. Ah Lo, here are fifty guineas from me as a mark of my approbation of the manner in which you assisted your master in carrying out this undertaking.”
In a very short time the story was known throughout the Residencies, and Rex received so many congratulations and so much praise that he determined to leave Pekin as soon as possible and try to join the relieving column.