George Henty.

With the Allies to Pekin: A Tale of the Relief of the Legations





But our army is officered by men who have passed exams.

Yes, but at any rate the exams for the army are not very difficult, and there is time for them to play as well as work. Still, I know my uncle thinks that it is about the worst way that could have been chosen for the selection of officers, and that in the next war we get into there will be no end of blunders.

It is likely enough that there will be; but there is one thing you must remember, and that is that, fortunately, the fellows who ?muz? at school are not the sort of fellows who go in for army examinations. They go into the church, or to the bar, or as masters in schools, or things of that sort. Look at us here. Lots of the fellows in the cricket and football teams are intended for the army, and I suppose it is the same in other schools, as it is from them that the officers are drawn. I don?t say that there mayn?t be a few of what you may call the grinders; still, certainly the bulk of them are not the sort of men who would ever set the Thames on fire if it came to only brain work.

Have you ever thought of going into the army, Bateman?

No, because I have a line ready cut out for me. I think a fellow is a fool who wants to take up a fresh line for himself instead of taking that where he is certain, if he is steady and so on, to do well; and in the next place, when one is an only son, as I am, I think that, even putting aside the question of doing well, it is his duty to help as far as he can to take the burden of the work off his father?s shoulders as he gets on in life.

There is no doubt that you are right, Bateman. That is the way to look at it, though it isn?t everyone who has the sense to do it. As I have got two elder brothers I am free to choose my own line, and shall, if I can pass, go into the army; if not, I shall emigrate. I have got grit and muscle enough to do as well as most fellows in that way, and it seems to me that with good health and spirits it would not be a bad sort of life at all. If I manage to pass we may possibly meet out in China some day. There are rows in that part of the world every few years, and although from all descriptions of the country campaigning there must be unpleasant work, at least it would be a change and an interesting experience.

Well, Milton, if you are out there we shall be very likely to meet, for any force going towards Pekin would be sure to pass through Tientsin, and if that were the case I should try to go with it as interpreter. However, I hope there won?t be any rows, for though in the treaty towns we should no doubt be all right and the troops would be certain to lick the Chinese, the missionaries all over the country would be certain to have an awful time of it. We should be very anxious about that, because my mother?s sister married a missionary and is settled a long way up the country.

Is your Chinaman going back with you?

Yes; I should be awfully sorry to leave him behind.

He has been with me as long as I can remember. My uncle only brought him over here in order that I might keep up my Chinese. I am sure that he would go through fire and water for me. It is a good thing to have a man like that, for, putting aside the fact that I like him tremendously, I would trust myself anywhere with him, for he is very strong, and, as he showed when he attacked those two fellows who upset the boat soon after I came here, there is no doubt that he is plucky. I expect he will be very glad to be home again. He has got accustomed to European clothes now, but I have no doubt that he would prefer his own; and then, of course, his family are there, and in China family ties are very strong. Families always stick together, even to distant relations. My uncle says that the population should be counted by families and not by individuals. Of course I did not think of such matters before I came away, but he says that it is like the old Scotch clans: the State deals with the families and not with the different members of it. If a man commits a crime and gets away, the family are held responsible for it, and one of them has to suffer penalties and pays either a large money fine or is executed.

That would be very rough on a family that happens to have one scamp among the sons.

Yes, I suppose so; but it helps to keep them all straight. A fellow who committed a crime, for which his father or any of his near relations had to suffer, would be considered not only as a disgrace to the family but as a man altogether accursed and beyond the pall of pity whatever fate might befall him. My uncle says crime is very rare in China, and that this is very largely due to the family ties.

But there are pirates on the coast and, as I hear, robbers on many of the rivers?

Yes; uncle says these men are fellows who have left their native villages and have banded together, so that if they are caught it is never known to what families they belong. They are beheaded, and there is an end of them, and their family never know anything about their case. The Chinese are a very peaceable lot, except that they sometimes get tremendously stirred up, as in the case of the Taiping insurrection. The people hear stories that the foreigners are trying to upset their religion or to take some of the land. Hideous stories go about that they have killed and eaten children or sacrificed them in some terrible way. Then they seem to go mad; they throw down their hoes and take up swords and muskets, if they have them, and blindly fall upon the whites.

They call us the foreign devils, don?t they?

No, that is a mistake; the real meaning of the words is ?ocean devils,? which answers to our word ?pirates.? Europeans were called so because the Chinese coasts were ravaged, sacked, and burnt by adventurers who first sailed into the Chinese seas, and the name has been applied to the whites ever since. It is the same way with the name of their country. By a misunderstanding, when we first had diplomatic relations with them the word ?Celestial? was applied to their empire, and people ever since have believed that that is what they call the country. The word ?Celestial? is applied only to the emperor, who is viewed almost as a god, but they would never dream of applying it to the country. Because the document said ?the Celestial Emperor,? it was supposed that the kingdom over which he reigned was called the ?Celestial Kingdom.? On the contrary, they call it the ?Terrestrial Kingdom,? believing, as they did before they had anything to do with foreigners, that it was, in fact, the only kingdom existing on earth worthy of the name.

And can you write Chinese as well as you can talk it, Bateman?

I can write the ordinary Chinese, but not the language of the literati class; that is entirely different, and the ordinary Chinaman has no more knowledge of it than I have. I believe that it contains twenty thousand different characters, and it is very doubtful if even the most learned Chinaman understands them all. Even the popular language is scarcely understood in all parts of China. The dialects differ as much as some of the English dialects, and the native of the Northern Provinces has the greatest difficulty in conversing with a man from the South.

There is the bell ringing, and I must run round to the boardinghouse to get my books.

Rex was extremely sorry when the last day of the term arrived and he had to say goodbye to his friends. Ah Lo, on the other hand, when he met him at the station, was in the highest spirits. He was delighted that he was henceforth always to be with his young master, and, though this was a minor consideration to him, he rejoiced at the thought that he was soon to return to his native land.

This is a good country, he said, speaking in his own language, much better than I had thought, and if all my family were not in China I should not mind living here all my life. They will be glad to see me too. Except that I have not been with them for so long, I have been a dutiful son, and have always sent half of my pay to my parents. They are well content with me. Fortunately I am the youngest of five sons. If I had been at home I should have had to stay at home to help my parents; but my brothers are all married and live in the village, so they can look after them and help them in their labours. As I left so young they do not miss me, and the money I have saved has helped to keep them in comfort. They have indeed received much more than they would have done had I stayed at home and worked for them, for my wages have been as much as my four brothers could earn together. I have only sent from here the same as I did when I was at Tientsin, although I have been paid higher, but then I shall have much to spend before we start, in buying presents for them and all my relatives. Besides, I have saved half of my earnings, for I have had no occasion to spend money here, and with my former savings added to this I shall be the richest man in the village. If I were to go back I could live comfortably all my life, but I should never want to do that, master, as long as you will keep me with you.

That will be as long as we both live, Ah Lo; but I think that when you get back you ought to take a wife.

I shall think about it, the Chinaman said, but I shall think many times before I do it. When a man is married he is no longer master of his own house. The wife is always good and obedient until she has a son; after that she takes much upon herself. If one were to get the right woman it would be very good, but it is not in China as it is here, where you see a great deal of a woman before you marry. In China I should have to say to one of the old women who act as intermediaries, ?I desire a wife,? Then she goes about and brings me a list of several marriageable girls. She praises them all up, and says that they are beautiful and mildtempered, and at last I choose one on her report; and it is not until after one is married that one can find out whether the report is true or not. Altogether the risk is great. I am happy and contented now; it would be folly for me to risk so much with so small an advantage. Suppose I had married before I came over here, my wife would have had to stay with my parents, and she might not have been happy there. I could not have brought her over here, for if I had done so everything would have been strange to her; the people would have pointed at her in the street, the boys would have called after her, and she would have been miserable.

I am sorry that you are going back, Rex, his uncle said to him, when all the preparations for the voyage had been completed, and he was to embark on the following day. I should have liked to keep you here, but naturally your mother and father want you back, and it is certainly best for you that you should, at any rate for some years, be over there to learn the business thoroughly, so that when your father retires you can succeed him, and in time perhaps come back to take charge here, if you can find among the clerks one sufficiently capable to represent us out there. But I shall miss you, lad, sorely. I have always looked forward to your being home for the holidays, and I had great interest in your life and doings at school. Still, I knew, of course, that that could not last for ever. In a small way it will be a wrench losing Ah Lo; I shall find a difficulty in getting anyone to fill his place. A more attentive or obliging fellow I have never come across. It will be a satisfaction to me to know that he is with you, for should any troubles arise, which I regard as quite possible, you will find him invaluable.

I only intended, when I took this house, to stay here until you returned, but I know so many people round here now that I shall probably stay on. I found it intolerably dull the first year, but now that I know all my neighbours it is different, and if I were to leave and take a house in town I should have all the work of making friends again.

I hope that things will settle down in China. Your father?s letters of late have taken rather a gloomy view of things, and he is not by any means given that way. I am more impressed by what he says than by what I read in the papers. In his last letter he says, ?I feel as if I were living in a country subject to earthquakes, and that at any moment the ground might open under our feet. It does not seem to me that our officials at Pekin have any idea as to the extent of the danger, but most of us here believe that it is very real. Happily we are strong enough to hold out here till aid could reach us, and this will be the case in all the treaty ports, but upcountry the outlook would be terrible. Emma is greatly troubled as to her sister upcountry, although to some extent she shares the belief of Masterton that the Chinese officials will protect them against the mob if troubles should begin. Although I don?t tell Emma so, I do not share in that belief.

?This Boxer movement, as it is called, might be easily crushed now if the Chinese authorities chose, but there is good reason for believing that they have the secret support of the empress, and the men by whom she is surrounded. If so, the officials throughout the country will naturally go with the tide; and as life is thought so little of in China, few of them would bestir themselves in earnest to protect the missionaries, still less the native converts. Well, I hope that I may be wrong, but I cannot feel at all comfortable in my mind as to the future.?

Knowing your father as I do, I cannot but think that the outlook is really serious. I was almost surprised that the letter did not conclude by saying, I think that you had better keep Rex for another year at school.?

I am very glad that it did not say so, uncle. For many reasons I am sorry to be going back, and I am very sorry to leave you. It has been very jolly at school, but if there is to be trouble I should like to be with my father and mother, and to do what little I can to aid in the defence of the English quarter if it should be attacked.

CHAPTER II
THE BOXERS

All was ready at last, and Mr. Bateman went down with Rex to join the steamer at Gravesend. As they went out on the tender Mr. Bateman said to a gentleman of about his own age, Hello, Chambers, who would have thought of seeing you here? Why, I haven?t seen you since I came home.

No, I came three months after you did. I wonder we never ran across each other before. Surely you are not going out again?

No, I have done with the glorious East for good, the other laughed. I am only here to see my nephew off. You will hardly remember him; he was only about twelve when he came home with me.

I certainly should not have known him again, Bateman. I am here on the same errand as you. My son is going out to Runciman?s. I am still in the firm, and act as their agent here. I wonder we have never run against each other. My son is two or three years older than your nephew. Shake hands, you two young fellows. It will be pleasant for you both, starting with someone you know; it makes you feel comfortable at once. I know the purser of the Dragon, and will get him to shift one of you so that your cabins may be together. I know he will do that for me if the ship is not very full, which it is not likely to be at this time of year.

The two lads shook hands with each other. They had no time for any words, for at this moment the tender came alongside the steamer.

You had better leave your traps here, boys, Mr. Chambers said, while I run down and see the purser before he gets the whole crowd at his heels. In three minutes he returned. I have managed that for you, he said. Bring all your light traps down and take possession. He has ordered one of the stewards to put your names on No. 17. It is a threeberth cabin, but you will have it to yourselves. When you have put all your light traps in, you had better come and watch the baggage put on board. I suppose you have already sent on board your nephew?s boxes for the hold, Bateman?

Yes; he has only two flat trunks for the voyage, made, of course, to go under the berths.

That is just what my son has, plus a couple of gun cases.

Rex has the same, a double barrel and a LeeMetford.

You don?t think he will want that, do you?

I hope not; but my brother James writes so gloomily about the prospect that we thought it just as well to get him a weapon that might be useful in case of trouble.

Well, I gave my lad two good doublebarrels, not bad weapons in case of a sudden ruction with the natives. I should think that would be the worst danger. My people tell me that there is a great deal of talk, but they do not think anything will come of it.

I hope not, I am sure. It would play the deuce with trade, but I agree with you in thinking that after the lessons we have given the Chinese, and the tremendous thrashings they have had from the Japs, they will not be foolish enough to want to do any more fighting. I do know, though, that they have been buying huge quantities of guns of all sorts, and rifles. Still, I fancy that is only because they don?t mean to be caught napping again.

While the elders were talking, the two lads made their way below. They found a steward, who took them to the cabin, on which their names had already been stuck, and they deposited their light traps there.

This will be very jolly, Bateman, Chambers said, especially as we are going to the same place. I have been at home for the past ten years, so it will be all new to me.

I have only been at home for four, Rex said. I dare say, however, I shall feel it strange when I go out again.

Who is the Chinese fellow who came off with you?

He is one of the boys from my father?s place. He was my special boy till I came home, so they sent him over with me, and he has been at my uncle?s ever since.

It seems rum keeping him over here all this time.

Well, he was kept over here for my sake. I had leave out of school twice a week, and spent it with him in order to keep up my Chinese.

You mean to say you can talk it?

Yes, as well as English.

By Jove, that is splendid! I wish they had done the same with me. I suppose I talked it when I came over, though I don?t know a word of it now, and shall have all the beastly grind of learning it.

Well, anyhow, it will be easier for you than if you had never known it. They say if anyone has once known a language and then forgotten it, it is much easier for him to pick it up again. Well, we had better go upstairs now and look after our baggage.

In a few minutes they picked out their boxes and saw them taken down to their cabin. Then they rejoined their friends until the bell rang. The partings were made with at least a show of cheerfulness.

I am awfully obliged to you for all your kindness to me, uncle, Rex said. I have had a jolly time, thanks to you, and shall always look back upon it.

I have been glad to have you, Rex, and shall feel like a fish out of water without you. Give my love to them out there. I hope you will find things all quiet and comfortable.

They stood at the rail until the tender steamed away up the river, and then stood watching the passengers, many of whom were still hunting for missing boxes. Then they went down and tidied up their cabin, and afterwards walked on deck until the bell rang for dinner.

Dick Chambers had been educated at Marlborough, had played in the eleven, and had represented the school at rackets. He had also been lieutenant in the school corps, and had shot in their Bisley team. He was a pleasant young fellow, though he put on airs on the strength of his two years? seniority.

Well, are you glad you are going home? he said, when they went forward together to speak to the Chinaman.

Glad some ways, not other ways, Ah Lo said. Velly nice summer time, too much rainee winter time.

But it is not very cheerful weather always in Tientsin, Ah Lo, Rex said.

I want to get home to see palents. Sent home money to them, but dat not likee seeing them. Good piecee people here.

You haven?t got to talk English very well, Dick laughed, considering you have been four years over here.

Always talk Chinatalk with Massa Rex. Talk with Master Robert same in China. Never let me talk English to Massa Rex. Talk lillie English to girls in kitchen. Dey always make fun of Ah Lo. Laugh at him face. Didn?t talk much with them. Just talk pidgin English.

No, I have never talked to him in English from the time when he first took charge of me until now. My father and uncle always talked to him in Chinese, so he really has had very little chance.

Not want very much learn English, Ah Lo said; if learn English, people in house say ?Ah Lo don?t do this,? ?Ah Lo do that,? keep him always at work.

You are like the monkeys who could talk well enough if they liked, but didn?t do so lest they were made to work.

Ah Lo grinned, and then said in Chinese to Rex, Ah Lo can work hard for his master, but not care to work hard for women who only make fun of him.





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